Eye Care Charity of Mid-America 3

Giving the Gift of Clear Sight

The Eye Care Charity of Mid-America is focusing on its mission of enhancing the quality of life, especially for children in need, by providing vision improvement through eye care services and eye health education.

Headquartered at 732 Goddard Avenue in Chesterfield, the non-profit vision care organization was founded in 2004, said Kate McKearn, director of resource development.

“We started because a former top executive in the eye care industry, Bill Jehling,  had a mission of providing access to bright futures through vision care,” she said.

“In our early years, we operated several fixed free vision clinics in low income neighborhoods to provide access to vision care for the underserved.”

Services really took off in 2013, when the organization acquired, with the help of a major donation from Ronald McDonald House Charities, its Mobile Vision Clinic – which carries two fully equipped optometry offices, an optometry lab and dispensary, more than 200 frames and an experienced optometrist and ophthalmologist on board.

“Now, we operate totally out of the mobile vision clinic, which is an easier way to serve more people at schools or wherever there is a need,” McKearn said.

In 2014, the organization expanded its reach to youth by increasing local mobile vision clinic visits. It targets low income students receiving free or reduced lunch in schools through St. Louis city and county.

“Since 2013, we have visited 285 schools – including those in the Rockwood School District – conducted 5,846 eye exams, and dispensed 4,988 pairs of glasses,” McKearn said.

“Our goal is reaching 2,500 children with exams this year.

Research shows that low income youth are at a greater risk of unrecognized and untreated vision problems and have a higher rate of unmet needs for vision care services, she said.

“One of the most common reasons parents give for not taking kids to the eye doctor is the cost of care,” she said.

“In addition to the expense, low income families often face additional barriers of limited transportation and inability to take time off of work. Our mobile vision clinic provides free eye care where it’s needed most, to overcome the barriers of access and expense to provide vision care for low income families.”

Those working at the mobile vision clinic can create a complete pair of glasses on the spot for a student.

“Within 15 to 20 minutes of a child stepping on the mobile vision clinic, they are able to walk off seeing clearly for the first time in their lives,” McKearn said.

“In four hours, we can see up to 40 children, and that’s why we created the mobile clinic – our reach is so much broader.”

While the organization has only three full-time staff members, it has about 50 volunteers and can always use more.

“We’re particularly looking for volunteer doctors who’d like to work with us on board the mobile vision clinic,” McKearn said.

The group is funded through individual donations, corporate sponsorships and through grants and foundations.

They also hold annual fundraisers to help raise money for the cause. On Aug. 27,  the group held a Legends of Blues dinner and auction, with a Legends Golf Classic fundraiser held on Aug. 29.

“People can still donate, to help out,” McKearn said.

“Since 2013, 90 percent of the kids we’ve helped on the mobile vision clinic have improved their grades and behavior; obviously, we’re having an immediate impact.”

For more information on the organization, call 636.778.1023 or visit ECCOMA.org.