Mobile 'Vision Van' serves local youngsters

Caleb Watts pressed his chin forward, as he answered the doctor with a robust confidence.

"What's that letter?" asked Dr. Steve Warstadt, an optometrist with LensCrafters of Northlake Mall, near Tucker.

"E," responded Watts, an 8-year-old, whose legs dangled from his seat as he struggled to make out the images in a mirror, during an eye examination.

"Very good," said Dr. Warstadt.

Warstadt volunteers regularly for OneSight, a Luxottica Group Foundation created in 1986 to help provide needy families around the world with free vision care and eyewear.

The non-profit organization's mobile eye-care clinic, known as the Vision Van, made a stop in Henry County recently to help some 130 young people with vision care and eyewear that their parents might not be able to afford, otherwise.

"It's a good way of helping kids," Warstadt said. "Sometimes, it's the first chance for kids to get glasses. And, if kids can't see, they can't learn."

Caleb Watts' father, Matt Watts, said his son has struggled in the classroom, partly due to an expired eyeglass prescription made when the youngster was 5 years old.

Matt Watts, who works as a subcontractor in plumbing, praised the program. "I think it's wonderful, because it gives us a chance to get a new pair of glasses that we can't afford," he said.

OneSight organizers point to this week's eye-care clinic as being the result of a regional effort involving OneSight volunteers from around metro Atlanta, including area optometrists, and employee volunteers from Luxottica's Sunglass Hut, along with teachers, school nurses and school counselors in the Henry County School System, who made student referrals.

"We coordinate on identifying students that need glasses," said Rhonda Black, the school nurse at Dutchtown Elementary School and Dutchtown High School. "We get a lot of parents that tell us they can't afford it, especially with the economy as it is. We enjoy the fact that they [OneSight] come to Henry County almost every year."

Black said many students, who may need glasses, do not realize they have issues seeing until they have been given an eye exam, like the one OneSight provides.

"We look for resources in the community that can help needy students," said Shonta Williams, a Henry County Schools social worker. "That's our job [as social workers] in general — whatever helps them to be successful in school."

Students must be eligible for free, or reduced lunch, in order to qualify for OneSight services, according to OneSight Captain Martha Johnson.

Johnson said the non-profit group has served Henry County students through its mobile Vision Van for the past four years at Luxottica's McDonough distribution center. The charity also hosted eye-care clinics, this year, at more centralized locations for children and their parents, including at Henry County High School in McDonough, and Dutchtown Elementary School in Hampton.

"We were hoping that this would alleviate transportation issues for the parents," said Johnson.

Dawn Yager, the OneSight Clinic Manager, who drives the Vision Van in a territory that includes stops in 27 different cities, said she has seen upwards of 10,000 children served the program, during the three years she has been involved with the mobile clinics.

"I eat, sleep, and breath it," said Yager. "I've bought into it with my heart."

The clinic manager remarked that she is heartened each clinic for what it could mean for children who can be helped, long-term, the charity. "Children are very often labeled with a learning disability, or a behavioral disorder, when it's because they can't see," said Yager.

To learn more about volunteering with, or donating to, the OneSight effort, visit www.luxottica.com.