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Students at Lovejoy Elementary School received free eyeglasses this morning thanks to a program called Vision to Learn.

A press conference Monday morning at Lovejoy Elementary really opened some eyes. It was the community kickoff for Vision To Learn and it brought into sharp focus the fact that eyewear can be just as critical to learning as good schools and teachers.

Founded in 2012 in Los Angeles, Vision To Learn provides children with free eye exams and free glasses by bringing its mobile eye clinics to schools and other neighborhood youth and community organizations. Now in 180 cities nationwide, VTL has served more than 85,000 kids.

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The work of Vision to Learn at five DMPS elementary schools is made possible thanks to support from United Way of Central Iowa, the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, and Prevent Blindness Iowa.

Thanks to a partnership between the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, Prevent Blindness Iowa and the United Way of Central Iowa, VTL established a presence in Des Moines earlier this spring. 2,000 students at Lovejoy, Capitol View, King, Moulton and Monroe elementary schools took eye exams at school. Those identified through the initial screening were referred to the VTL mobile clinic, aka The Van, and ultimately 160 were selected to receive free eyeglasses in frame styles of their choosing.

“Thanks to this partnership … we are able to provide one more vital tool that supports our students, enhances their education, and puts them on a clearer path to graduate and succeed,” said Superintendent Tom Ahart.

According to United Way of Central Iowa president Elisabeth Buck, United Way hopes to expand the VTL program over the next two years to include all area schools where more than 50% of the student body comes from low-income households.

Research indicates that more than 90% of kids from poor homes who need eyeglasses do not have them. You simply cannot read what you cannot see.

“This innovative program is another way we are mobilizing our community to help all children read proficiently by third grade,” said Buck, directly linking VTL to the Read to Succeed literacy initiative that was launched locally a year ago.

The big reveal at Monday’s event was when the blurry fog finally lifted for 20 lucky Lovejoy kids.

“Okay, Cruisers,” said Lovejoy Community in Schools Coordinator Bobbie Jo Sheridan. “You’ve all been asking me for weeks: ‘When do I get my glasses?’ Well, today is your day.”

One by one their names were called and they came forward to look through their brand new windows on the world.

“YES!” said Isaac, as soon as his slid into place.

Cheyenne grinned and nodded in vigorous appreciation.

“Y’all look all big,” was how Natasia put it, and everyone clapped and laughed.

It was almost like they were receiving a diploma. That destination is still a long way off, but now the way there is clear to see.

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