By Gary Walker
Christmas came early last week for a number of local schoolchildren in the form of a gift that could alter the course of their academic lives.
Vision to Learn, a nonprofit created to distribute free eyeglasses to children in need, offered no-cost eye exams and distributed more than two dozen pairs of spectacles on Nov. 8 at Loyola Village Elementary School in Westchester.
Businessman and philanthropist Austin Beutner, the group’s founder, made a personal appearance at the school for the occasion.
“Instead of forcing families to go where the glasses are — the eye clinic — we bring the glasses to where the kids are,” said Beutner, who previously worked at Los Angeles City Hall as a deputy mayor, jobs czar and head of economic and business policy.
Vision to Learn has examined the eyes of some 13,000 students and given away nearly 10,000 pairs of glasses, according to its website.
In collaboration with local Rotary organizations, the nonprofit expects to visit Playa del Rey Elementary School in Del Rey as well as Broadway Avenue and Westminster Avenue elementary schools in Venice before the end of the school year in June.
Loyola Village Principal Melinda Goodall said sight troubles hold many students back from doing their best.
“This is giving our children access to one of the most essential tools for school, and that is being able to see,” Goodall said. “There is no question that academic achievement will soar. We’re expecting that their self-esteem will increase.”
Vision to Learn has a team of optometrists and opticians who visit schools with high proportions of students from low-income families and conduct exams in a mobile clinic.
Dr. Tina Patel, a Vision to Learn optometrist, said she has seen children with a wide range of vision problems, including some associated with older adults.
“We have children who have glaucoma or are suspects for glaucoma, which is increased eye pressure,” Patal explained. “One of the young students that we saw [during vision checkups] actually had a cataract, opacity [cloudiness] of the lens inside the eye.”
The event at Loyola Village Elementary came as part of ongoing collaborations among the Rotary Club of Westchester, Rotary Club of Playa Venice Sunrise and the Rotary Club of Redondo Beach to address children’s vision needs.
The Loyola Marymount University Rotaract Club is raising funds for the effort by raffling $10,000 in travel vouchers donated to Vision to Learn by United Airlines.
THe Drollinger Family Charitable Foundation and the Carol & James Collins Foundation are among other donors.
Nora Maclellan, a Rotary member and volunteer outreach coordinator for Vision to Learn, became involved in the nonprofit in April 2012.
“I see how the lives of the kids will be changed. I see how they smile when they get their new glasses,” said Maclellan, a Playa del Rey resident.
Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin assisted Beutner in delivering the glasses to students.
The councilman, who recently began sporting new eyewear, assured the children that there was no social stigma to wearing their presents.
“It’s cool to wear glasses,” he said.