A fortunate student at Frederick Douglass Stubbs Elementary School in Wilmington became the 200,000th student in the nation last week to receive free prescription glasses from Vision To Learn.
The nonprofit organization chose to celebrate this milestone in Delaware, where its nationwide rollout kicked off five years ago. The 2014 event was greeted with much fanfare, including attendance by then Governor Jack Markell and WNBA star Elena Delle Donne.
In an effort to support healthy vision month, Sen. Chris Coons, Sen. Tom Carper and Wilmington Mayor Michael Purzycki spoke at last week’s the event and assisted Vision To Learn’s founder in distributing the glasses.
“My wife, Martha, is almost completely blind. But when she was young, her parents made sure she got glasses,” Sen. Carper said. “Not everybody’s that lucky, and that’s why Vision to Learn and their goal is so important.”
In the United States, over two million students don’t have access to the prescription glasses they need. Vision to Learn hopes reduce barriers to learning by providing necessary eye exams and glasses to kids in low-income communities.
“It’s about helping the children become successful. We want to ensure that each child has equal opportunity in the classroom,” Vision To Learn founder Austin Beutner said.
Approximately one out of five kids need glasses to read a book, see the board or simply be an active participant in the classroom. In low-income areas across the nation, such as Wilmington, 95% of children don’t receive the glasses they require.
Vision to Learn began in Los Angeles, California in 2012. Two years later the national rollout started in Delaware. The program has helped students in more than 322 cities in the US, from Wilmington to Honolulu, HI.
Earlier this year, TSD visited Wilmington Manor Elementary School, where fifteen children received pairs of prescription glasses from the organization.
On Friday, Coons, Carper and Purzycki individually shared personal stories of how poor vision affected their lives.
Each child received a high-five from the notable guests and a new pair of glasses, embracing their new “superpower.”
The recipient of the 200,000th pair was Alani Wharton. “She couldn’t believe it was her out of the whole country,” her mother said. Vision To Learn likes to distribute the free glasses in group settings because they say it helps kids feel positive about having to wear them and it becomes more of a community celebration.
Sen. Coons’ mother Sally Gore, also present at the event, currently serves as a chair on the organization’s advisory board. “Sally is modest. But I can tell you she is a vital piece in our organization’s success in Delaware,” Beutner said.
“This is a great occasion for the state of Delaware,” Gore said. “Many of these children would not be able to get glasses otherwise.”
TSD Contributor Ellie Watson co-authored this article.