UPDATE 9/19/12 @ 6 p.m.
LESAGE, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Kassi Woods knows just how important her glasses are.
“Really important because I can't see without them,” Kassi said.
She's worn them since she was a baby. If she doesn't have them on, it's a whole different world.
“Then everything's a blur,” Kassi said.
That blurry vision is why 40 volunteers are checking eyes at schools throughout Cabell County. For a lot of the kids at Cox Landing Elementary, it was their chance to go from blurry to completely in focus.
Brian Gum is one of those volunteers.
“They're gonna be able to see leaves, see animals and most importantly be able to read and really participate in school fully,” Gum said.
He works for Alcon, a global company that makes optical products in Cabell County. The Alcon Foundation partnered with the Essilor Foundation to make sure every student here can see.
“We find a lot of issues here in the screening phases and the testing phases of the children's eyes,” Gum said.
At Cox Landing, more than 80 of the 225 students had potential vision problems. Those kids will now see an eye doctor -- to find out if they need glasses or surgery. The principal says those glasses can make all the difference.
“If they can't see, they're not going to perform well academically,” Principal Kristin Giles said. “And a lot of times, if they can't perform academically, then they're going to have behavior problems. So it's huge for them to have good eyesight.”
And for many of them, this is their only chance.
“A lot of these children come from wonderful families,” Gum said. “But, you know, life happens. They're trying to put food on the table. They're busy with jobs. A lot of times they just don't have the time.”
This program goes beyond vision testing. If the optometrist finds the kids do need glasses, Alcon and Essilor will provide them with one pair of free glasses. Students that need stronger prescriptions may also qualify to receive two free pair of glasses.
Replacements for the glasses will also be made available by the companies if needed.
About 40 volunteers from Alcon Labs, located along W.Va. 2 in Cabell County, tested every child for vision issues. On average 10 to 12 percent of the children tested need corrective lenses. Twenty-eight of the first 200 tested are in need.
"We've teamed up with Essilor Vision Foundation," said Brian Gum with Alcon. "For $100 we test all kindergarten through fourth-graders and outfit the kids with problems with two pair of eyeglasses in case they lose or break one."
Gum sited a prison study that claims 80 percent of all inmates have vision issues. It's a road this program hopes to close.
"I'm anticipating amazing results," Guyandotte Principal Martha Evans said. "Poor vision has been a way of life for many of these children, and many don't even know they need glasses."
The Kids' Vision program is in 19 states. This is their first venture into West Virginia. The eventual goal here is testing and outfitting all kindergarten through fourth-grade students in Cabell County who need glasses. But the big ambition is spreading this program across the country.
"They're name brand and they're cool, so kids will wear them," Gum said. "They can pick their own out. They're involved in the whole process."
"Just yesterday a mother came in saying her son really needs glasses," said Martha Evans, "so this program has come at the right time."
On Wednesday, the focus will be at Cox Landing Elementary. Gum says they will test about 500 kids in both schools.
With the need averaging 10 to 12 percent, that means about 60 children will benefit from the program.
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