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Focusing on Children's Eye Care

Sixteenth annual 'Hometown Day' provides eye examines and glasses for children in need.

In an effort to give back to those in need, Lens Crafters has taken its worldwide Gift of Sight program to the local level with Hometown Day.

"This is their way of giving back to the community," said Bob Meyer, general manager of the Fair Oaks Mall Lens Crafters. "We recycle glasses through our gift of sight program, but those go abroad to clinics. "

Meyer, who has worked with Lens Crafters for 13 years, said because of health regulations the recycled glasses cannot be distributed in the United States, so the company — in conjunction with the Lions Club — offers eye-sight tests and recycled prescription glasses to the needy in other countries.

But, Meyer said, the gift of sight at the local level to those in need — specifically children — is just as important to the company, which is why it created Hometown Day.

"I think in 2003 there was a goal to assist 3 million people, and we far exceeded that," he said, adding those were national numbers for the event. "We have to try and help 29 people per store, and there are 870 stores [nationwide]."

Lissa Dalmau-Hernadez, frame stylist at Lens Crafters in Fair Oaks Mall, said Hometown Day helps less-fortunate children in the community not only have their eyesight tested and have them receive a free pair of prescription glasses, but it also helps them learn.

"Eighty-percent of learning is visual," said Hernadez about the importance of checking children's eyesight. "It's important to take care of your eyes and get your children examined."

AS A PART of Hometown Day, selected children — primarily young children selected by schools and social service workers — were able to come to Fair Oaks mall and meet with Dr. Fei Chan of Fair Oaks Optometrics Associates, to have their eyesight evaluated before going next door to Lens Crafters.

"Twenty percent of children 9 to 15 [years old] need glasses, and [many] of those don't receive them," said Chan about the lack of knowledge toward checking children's eyesight. "A lot of times, affordability is an issue, and we're trying to help those who can't afford it."

Chan, who has participated in Hometown Day since 1989, said they open their office early to see as many children as possible through the day — in addition to regular patients.

"A lot of times they don't bring in their children because a lot of parents feel that glasses are a handicap for their children," said Chan, adding that children also may not know they have poor vision. "For children, it's hard to know what they can and cannot see because they are used to seeing that way."

Once the initial vision test is completed, the children meet with Chan who — after completing her formal evaluation — writes a prescription to take to Lens Crafters to be fitted with frames of the child's choice.

"Everything we dispense is new," said Meyer, adding most frames are donated by Lens Crafters' parent company, Luxottica. "They send us frames for this cause and then we use our lenses that we have in stock — so the children go through the normal process that every customer goes through."

RECENTLY CHAN SAID she has seen an increase in children with poor eyesight coming in to be checked — something she said could be prevented.

"Screening a child before they are in school is the ideal [time] for parents because there may be a problem they don't recognize — mainly because they don't know what to look for."

At the Fair Oaks Lens Crafters, Meyer said most young customers have been referred by schools, not because their parents had them professionally screened.

"The biggest way students get to us is school nurses," he said. "There is not enough vision screening being done to identify the need in schools."

Although new to the store, Hernadez said that she wanted to plan this year's Hometown Day, primarily contacting previous participating schools in addition to referrals from social services.

"A lot of times these are the kids first pair of glasses," she said. "We see the prescriptions are so bad that they should have had them for a while."

Hernadez said although it is important for her to help the children see better, she also enjoys helping because of the instant gratification she gets when a child tries on their glasses and can see clearly for the first time.

"There is no better thing in the world than seeing a child smile," she said.