Friday, Nov 02 2012 05:21 PM

Van rolls into town to bring free glasses to children

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Volunteer Ann Owens checks for the center of Olivia Wheelan's pupil during a visit by OneSight's Vision Van at Standard Elementary School. Kids who have failed previous eye exams twice in the past were given comprehensive exams and received their glasses that were manufactured on the site.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Optometrist Candi Kimura checks the optic nerve of a Standard Elementary student during a visit from OneSight's Vision Van.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Sixth-graders Emily Welsh and Larissa Hernandez were just two of the students who had their eyes checked and were issued new glasses on the spot when OneSight's Vision Van came to Standard Elementary School to outfit kids with glasses.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Standard Elementary students use shades to protect their eyes after having their pupils dilated prior to an examination by the OneSight's Vision Van team.

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BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer

Kids don't usually consider glasses cool but on Friday afternoon, spectacles were the must-have accessory in Cathylyn Bolles' first-grade classroom at Standard Elementary School.

"They're pretty. It makes me see better," said 6-year-old Faith Anderson as she toyed with her brand new black-and-blue frames.

Several other girls sported vibrant pink glasses, while 7-year-old classmate Jackson Coats picked out a blue pair to match his headphones.

"I went up (in) this little room and we looked through this thing and we looked for alphabets," Coats said, explaining how he and his classmates had their vision tested.

The children were sporting free eyewear after a visit to the OneSight van parked on the Oildale school's playground. The vehicle called "EyeLeen" came to campus to provide glasses to 80-some students from the elementary school and Standard Middle School.

OneSight is a nonprofit connected to Luxottica, a company whose retailers include LensCrafters, Sears Optical and Sunglass Hut.

"Having a foundation, OneSight, allows us to take our hands-on skills and deliver goods and services to the under-served in the community," said Leona Dockery, the OneSight project manager who drove the van into Bakersfield.

The nonprofit's vans traverse the country providing lenses for children. Friday's event was the group's first visit to Bakersfield.

The van named "EyeLeen" was fitted with two exam areas, a frame-fitting section and manufacturing area so the glasses could be made on-site.

"I like to refer to it as an optical shop on wheels without a cash register," Dockery said.

The children were shepherded from the school's library through the van by volunteers. After their sight was tested, students chose their frames from dozens of styles set out for them in the back of the van not far from the equipment and volunteer lab workers that would soon craft their new lenses.

Among the volunteers were doctors from Advanced Center for Eyecare, a local nonprofit that provides medical and surgical eyecare to people who can't afford it.

"The need is so great here. Forty-two percent of the population in Kern County do not have access to quality eye care," said Justin Cave, the center's executive director.

School officials said many of the students had failed school eye screenings and been referred to an optometrist, but never made it to the doctor.

"Most of the families of these kids are all bordering on the poverty level, so (they are) very needy and (it is) very tough for them to go and pick out glasses that are, you know, $225," said Superintendent Kevin Silberberg.

So Friday, the doctor and the glasses came to the kids. Dr. Vin Dang, an optometrist who volunteers with Advanced Center for Eyecare, chatted with the children as he gagued their color vision and depth perception before sending them off for their next test. The children were pre-screened by the school before the van came to town.

Dang, who has volunteered with OneSight for larger projects in Los Angeles, was pleased to see the organization launch a project in Bakersfield.

"It's amazing, I can't believe it," he said.

In Bolles' classroom, even the students who didn't need glasses wanted a pair. The ones waiting for their lenses to be finished were eager to receiver their specs.

"Am I gonna go get my glasses yet?" Coats asked a reporter, hopefully.

He slumped back to his chair defeated when the answer was not yet.

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