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“We’re everyone’s ally for getting glasses,” said Brenda Dunn, program manager of New Mexico Lions Operation KidSight, Inc.
Since taking over the program in February 2015, Dunn has processed more than 5,200 vouchers for glasses for children and adults.
The statewide program is based in Las Cruces, at the Lions Club community center, 1501 N. Solano Drive, at the corner of Solano and Juniper Avenue. It is also home to the Lions Clubs’ Spare Pair and AdultSite programs. There are exam rooms for conducting vision and hearing tests and a frames gallery with hundreds of different styles of glasses frames. There is also a frames kit with 30 different styles of frames, including 20 in a second color, that can be taken into elementary schools.
The center is also home to the Audrey Hardman-Hartley Memorial Library, which has children’s books that kids can read when they come to the center, and even take home with them, Dunn said.
Operation KidSight’s 25 teams conducted more than 40,000 eye exams in elementary schools across the state in 2019, Dunn said. It made about 8,000 referrals to eye doctors for glasses, which the Lions will pay for – the examination, the glasses and even a spare pair of glasses – if the family cannot afford them.
The service is available to “anybody that wants to have the screening done,” said Dunn, who has been a Lions Club member for 18 years. That includes public schools, private and parochial schools, pre-K programs and daycare centers. Operation KidSight even sent a screening team recently to a home-school daycare center in Las Cruces, she said.
The service, available to students ages 8-18, is funded in part by the New Mexico Save Our Children’s Sight Fund. You can donate $1 or $5 to the program by checking a box when you renew your vehicle registration.
“We’re doing everything we can to let everyone know we have funding for students who don’t have Medicaid or private insurance,” Dunn said.
The Lions will also pay for single-vison and lined bifocals for adults who cannot afford them.
The biggest issue for the program is parent non-compliance, Dunn said. Of the thousands of children referred to optometrists for glasses, 35-40 percent do not see an eye doctor.
“If they can’t see, they can’t learn,” she said.
Dunn has come up with a way to reduce that number: a mobile eye clinic that includes an eye doctor and fills prescriptions for students’ glasses in school parking lots across the state.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico is donating a van to the Lions later this year that will be available in this part of the state. Dunn hopes to get state funding of about $1 million to purchase three other vans so the service can go statewide.
Dunn said being the Lions’ “one-man show” as Operation KidSight program manager statewide is “the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.” The children served by the program are “my kids,” she said.
If you donate a pair of used glasses to the Lions (there is a drop box at the community center), it will go to one of 31 health clinics in Mexico, Dunn said, where it will be given to someone with the same prescription who needs glasses but cannot afford them.
The Lions have been recycling glasses for almost 100 years, Dunn said.
The Lions Club community center is also home to the Lion Crane Reading Program, which begins with the KidSight eye screening.
“This program has proven to improve a child’s ability to read and at the same time comprehend what he or she is reading,” said program administrator Cathy Waters.
A student named Francisco is a good example, Waters said. Francisco was reading at a second-grade level before he began the reading program, she said. At the end of a semester in the program, he was reading at a fifth-grade level, she said.
Through the online MindPlay reading program, Waters develops a baseline for each participating student and then challenge the student “with increasingly demanding reading skills,” she said, and moves him or her to the next reading level.
“We provide the parents with monthly reports which outline how their child is progressing,” Waters said. “We have had numerous parents express their gratitude because their child has progressed within their class.
Contact Dunn at 575-525-5631 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Cathy Water, administrator of the Lion Crane Reading Program, at 575-640-5020 and email@example.com.
For more information and to donate, visit www.NMLionsKidSight.com.