If you’re one of the millions of Americans who wear glasses or other corrective vision tools, the first time you see is a moment you’ll never forget. A blurry world is suddenly brought into high definition, and a world of possibilities is immediately unlocked. But for many low-income students, the gift of sight is barred from access due to barriers like costs, insurance, or other obstacles. However, thanks to the efforts of the Henry J. Austin Health Center, Vision to Learn, and their generous support, dozens of children in our community will now see a clear future ahead.
On Monday, June 12th, students, friends, families, and supporters gathered at Trenton’s Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School to celebrate distributing free glasses to students in need. Guests had the opportunity to hear from a distinguished panel of speakers, including:
- Victor Farnath, Principal, Dr. MLK Jr. Middle School
- James Earle, Superintendent, Trenton Public School District
- Kemi Alli, MD, Chief Executive Officer, HJAHC
- Reed Gusciora, Mayor of Trenton
- Pete Silberman, Chief Growth Officer, Vision to Learn
The event marks a significant milestone for the VTL program in Trenton, and the students at Dr. MLK Jr. Middle School, allowing them to see the world more clearly and achieve their full potential in the classroom.
The VTL program plays a vital role in providing eye exams to students who failed their initial screenings and ensures that those in need receive brand-new glasses. This initiative is made possible through the generosity of donors and partners, including the Credit Union of New Jersey (CUNJ) and the George H. and Estelle M. Sands Foundation. Their support demonstrates a shared commitment to the educational success and well-being of the students in our community.
Principal Victor Farnath opened the panel by stating, “Vision to Learn came here earlier in the year and screened every single one of our students. Those who do pass will be sent to their optometrist for glasses, and we will get 99 pairs of glasses, which is just an incredible feat.” Farnath continued, noting, “I can remember as a child, being the kid in little league that didn’t swing his bat the entire year because I couldn’t see the ball. I remember being a third-grade student who never raised their hand because they had no idea what was written on the board by their teacher. And that’s something our students probably deal with today, or something just like that. But they no longer have to.”
Superintendent James Earle remarked on the vital role of vision in laying a firm foundation for a brighter future: “We talk about building the home foundation by ensuring kids are not food insecure. We talk about having resources like books and magazines, places for them to read, and those types of things. We don’t often think about vision. And so quite often that’s passed by because we’re thinking about how do we teach them, how to make sure they’re here – we think about attendance, think about parent engagement. But if you can’t see what you need to learn, as Mr. Farnath said a few minutes ago, you never swing the bat. For the 99 young people who will have this opportunity today, it just builds the foundation that we’ve been working so hard for in Trenton in my short time here, to build all of the small things, and that’s what we want to do.”
Although it might take these students some time to get used to their glasses, Dr. Kemi Alli noted just how important it is for them to know the resource is available. “Now, I know some of you may not like wearing your glasses, young people, but at least you now know that if you are having challenges, you are having difficulties, you can put your glasses on, and it may change how your learning evolves. So once again, I think this is an amazing opportunity.”
Mayor Reed Gusciora then took to the stage with some encouragement for the students: “A large percentage of children do need glasses – for the screenings so far, 41% of those who were screened needed glasses, and it just shows that there’s no shame in the game because the game is more than you. This will open up your world with reading, sports, math, and music – this program is so fundamental. So critical.”
The last of the day’s remarks came from Chief Growth Officer of Vision to Learn, Pete Silberman, who stated, “We work all over the country to find kids just like you. We are here today because we think that talent exists in every community, it exists in every classroom, it exists in every city, and it certainly exists here in Trenton. But opportunity does not. Opportunity begins with the ability to see your future and your potential. That’s what we’re here, to try to make sure that’s what we’re doing.” And with that, the children were finally ready to receive their glasses.
One by one, students were called up and allowed to try on their custom-made glasses for the first time. With smiling faces and crystal-clear vision, students then took a photo with the mayor, adjusted their glasses, and perused a selection of books available to them. Reactions ranged from stunned to ecstatic, but the one common denominator was the newfound confidence these students could now access. Empowered to see their future, the students recognized during this program are one step closer to harnessing their full potential.
If you’d like to read more about the Vision to Learn program and help support the Henry J. Austin Health Center’s incredible work, you can visit their website here: Vision for Trenton Youth – HJAHC. As the HJAHC team works tirelessly to bring this program to all Trenton’s students, there is no doubt that their work is changing lives, one pair of glasses at a time.