Valley Businesses, Nonprofits Fit School Children with Glasses

CAMPBELL, Ohio – Campbell City Schools had 155 students who failed their basic eye tests this year. Now a collaboration between area business and nonprofit organizations will ensure they see clearly.

Sight for All United, United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, Fitz Frames, Nouns Dao, Essilor Vision Foundation and Classic Optical Laboratories gathered this week for three days at the Community Literacy Workforce and Cultural Center to attend to the vision needs of these children. Through the Sight for All United initiative, children were provided optometry services and glasses through the initiative.

“We know that 80% of learning happens through the visual system, and there’s no way to succeed if you can’t see,” says Dr. Sergul Erzurum, co-founder and president of Sight for All United. “We’re just trying to help level the playing field so we give them a better chance.”

Erzurum says in schools that screen for abnormalities, about 35% of those children who are screened fail their eye tests Then, 60% of those who fail never go see a doctor.

“So we’re here trying to fix that problem,” she says.

Youngstown Community School, Youngstown City Schools, Liberty Local Schools, Crestview Local Schools, St. Joseph the Provider School and Warren City Schools have been served by this project. Youngstown Community School was the first of many helped in February 2017.

Last year, this event did not happen because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Erzurum says in years past this event happened in one day, but had to be extended to three days this year to abide health protocols during the pandemic.

“Our goal is to hit every single child in the tri-county area that does not get in to be seen by a doctor. That’s a goal that we’re trying to hit by 2022,” she says. 

After each child was registered, they went through tests to determine how they see objects, such as viewing letters and patterns from different angles and distances. In another room, optometrists or ophthalmologists conduct internal and external examinations to determine the child’s prescription for glasses.

Each child is custom-fitted for frames before going back to class.

“This program is from A to Z,” Erzurum says. “We know the kids are getting glasses. They also get two pairs of glasses, one for the classroom and one for home.”

Everything provided to the school and the children is free.

Dr. Sergul Erzurum, Heidi Hertzel and Dawn Friedkin were some of the integral people helping Campbell City Schools students receive intensive eye exams and be fitted for glasses. The program is possible through the donations of many area companies and nonprofits.

Dawn Friedkin, formerly the president of Classic Optical Laboratories, says she started with this program about four years ago after the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley asked if they could provide glasses for the project. That’s how she first met Erzurum, and the two teamed up for Sight for All United. Friedkin is on the board of directors for Sight for All United and Texas-based Essilor Vision Foundation.

“It really started as a little bit of an operation of sending doctors in and trying to find methods to make it work,” Friedkin says.

This year, one of Classic Optical’s customers, Fitz Frames, got involved. Fitz provides the frames and Classic Optical the lenses. 

Launched in 2019, Fitz Frames prints 3D printed custom frames made from polymer powder, a Nylon 12 – a general-use plastic. Heidi Hertel, founder of Fitz Frames, says her product is more durable and flexible than standard acetate glasses. A person’s name or phone number could be engraved on the inside of the temple.

“That was really important to us because we’d seen families go through a lot of glasses and it can get very expensive and it’s very frustrating,” Hertel says. “We actually made the glasses all 3D printed so there’s no extra parts. There’s no hinges or screws. Everything is 3D, printed right there in the frame.”

Hertel says the glasses made for the Campbell children will be delivered, as much as possible, in person. She’d like to bring the students into the Youngstown Business Incubator to see this process.

“That’s what we’re hoping to do, to educate, and show them that this is the technology of the future,” Hertel says. “The fact that we have so many experts in Youngstown is such an amazing thing to have. We want the kids to be able to learn about it and see if they want to become a part of that movement.” 

That movement became a reality as Fitz Frames became involved with Nouns Dao [decentralized autonomous organization]. Nouns Dao deals in non-fungible tokens, which are non-interchangeable units of data stored on a digital ledger. 

“They are excited to actually use some of their treasury to get these kids exams and glasses,” Hertel says. 

Pictured at top: Sandy Santiago administers an eye test to one of the Campbell City Schools students being tested and fitted for glasses.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.