Without proper vision, it is nearly impossible for a child to effectively learn.
To ensure no child struggles to see, local Lions Clubs visited every school in the district, as well as some day care centres, during the school year to screen students for vision problems.
“Six months to six years is the time when you have the opportunity to make a difference in the permanent eyesight of a child,” noted Joanne Ogden, president of the Emo and District Lions Club.
“If somebody at the age of two years old had an intervention, they might not need glasses when they're older,” she reasoned.
So far this year, the Lions have screened over 1,800 youngsters in the district and surrounding area, with an approximate 18 percent rate of referral for an optometrist.
With such a high referral rate, local Lions want to make sure the referred students receive the eye care they need.
“If you had a child who didn't have insurance, their eye exam is paid for through the auspices of the Ontario government but they're glasses are not,” Ogden explained.
“If you approach any Lions Club in the district with a letter of need, the [club] will find some way of making sure that your child gets the glasses that they need,” she pledged.
The Lions' eye screenings in the district started a few years ago when local clubs were given the opportunity to utilize a device called the “Welch Allyn Spot Camera,” which can be used to test individuals age 18 and under for vision problem.
“It's a very specialized camera that does particular measurements that are required by optometry,” Ogden noted.
“It's used as a screening tool to get kids who need to be in the optometrist office to an optometrist.”
For the past two years, club members have visited schools across the district and beyond, reaching as far as Pickle Lake to the north and Bemidji, Mn. to the south.
When visiting remote communities like Pickle Lake, the Lions found an incredible referral rate above 50 percent, meaning more than half of the kids screened needed to see an optometrist.
Pickle Lake doesn't have a local optometrist and Ogden said it's likely no one from that community had ever had an eye screening like that before, hence the high referral rate.
“They don't have optometry services so if they have a kid who has a sight issue, it would have to be a fairly obvious issue for them to make the trek out four or five hours to Dryden to see the optometrist,” she remarked.
Ogden has seen first-hand how important basic eye screenings can be.
“I've personally visited a school where a young person who had a teacher's aid was a bit of a handful,” she recalled.
"It took me probably 20 minutes to catch him still enough to do his screen.
“He was just disruptive, he was everywhere, and he needed to be in quiet rooms by himself,” she noted.
"We managed to screen him and he was a referral. Somebody got him to the optometrist and got him glasses.
“Probably three or four months later, I went back to the school to catch a couple of kids with the screener again that we had missed and the same child who had been disruptive no longer required a teacher's assistant,” Ogden added.
“He was sitting quietly showing someone else how to read words in a book.”
Ogden also has heard how the Lions' eye screenings have saved lives south of the border.
A boy whose mother initially refused to sign his consent form obliged after much coaxing from her boy. After the screening, it was discovered he had a tumour in his eye.
“So not only was there a prompt intervention in ensuring the child retained as much sight as possible, the child was actually diagnosed very, very early and retained his life, not just his sight,” Ogden lauded.
Local Lions Clubs hope to purchase an additional Welch Allyn Spot Camera, which costs roughly $10,000 (Cdn.) so they can have one in both the east and west ends of the district to make it easier to reach every school.
The Emo and District Lions, meanwhile, also plan to do eye screenings at the Emo Fair in mid-August.
The Lions look forward to continuing to provide the eye screening service in the 2018-19 school year, and would like to thank all of their volunteers for donating time to conducting the screenings.