Helping Children See Clearly: HHI Partners for Vision in KC Schools

Imagine struggling to see the board at school or having trouble focusing on a book. For many children in under-resourced communities, these challenges become just another hardship on top of the distractions they already face. Uncorrected vision can significantly hinder a child’s ability to learn, leading to frustration and a drop in self-confidence.

That’s why Heart to Heart International (HHI) is proud to partner with the KC Free Eye Clinic and University Health to bring vision care directly to elementary students. In August 2023, we kicked off this program at Melcher Elementary in Kansas City, Missouri.

Shining a Light on Hidden Needs

Through the program, Kansas City Free Eye Clinic, with its completely portable equipment, was able to conduct comprehensive vision screenings right at the school, eliminating any transportation barriers for students.

The initial screenings identified a range of vision issues among the students, including astigmatism, nearsightedness, and even a torn retina. These discoveries highlight the importance of accessible eye care. Dr. Neel Gupta, an optometrist with the Kansas City Free Clinic, emphasized the impact of uncorrected vision: “We’ve been finding high astigmatisms which make it difficult to focus on the board and read. Some of the students are in special reading program that they might not need to be in – they just need glasses!

The program provided free eye exams and glasses to children like Renaya, whose mother, Delicia Edwards, expressed her gratitude. “I knew she needed her eyes checked, but I didn’t know where to go,” Delicia shared. “This program means a lot to us because I know Renaya can get the help she needs right here!”

A Collaborative Effort for Lasting Impact

This partnership extends beyond individual stories. The collaboration between HHI and the KC Free Eye Clinic is a powerful example of how organizations can work together for greater impact. As Dr. Gupta noted, “The word is getting out about the program’s positive effect, and more students are participating.

This collaboration has further strengthened the KC Free Eye Clinic, a small nonprofit with a big mission. “Working with HHI has re-energized our organization,” said Birju Solanki, Director of the KC Free Eye Clinic. “It has allowed us to reach a broader demographic than just our fixed location downtown. The strength in Heart to Heart International is in providing resources so that other smaller nonprofits like us can thrive and do a better job making a difference in the community.”

University Health also plays a vital role in the partnership. Whitney Muhammad, from their community health team, shared, “We’re grateful for the opportunity to bring vision screenings directly to the schools. Partnering with HHI to ensure students have access to this essential care is very rewarding.”

A Brighter Future, One Clear Vision at a Time

The impact of the program is undeniable. Last month, we completed the program with more than 40 students receiving comprehensive exams after their initial screenings. Multiple students were referred on to more specialized care centers, and 36 were fitted with free glasses.

Together, we’re making a difference. By providing access to eye care, we’re empowering children to reach their full potential in the classroom and beyond. We witnessed this firsthand when a student received his glasses for the first time. Rebecca Fennelley, a nurse at Melcher Elementary, recalls the moment: “His eyes lit up and he said, ‘oh Nurse Becca, I can read the letters! It’s all so clear!’ It made my heart melt.”