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The gift of sight: Fargo Lions Club provides vision screening for children

Early vision testing is critical for detecting and treating eye problems that could affect a child's ability to learn. Thinkstock / Special to The Forum1 / 3
The screening devices provide a more accurate diagnosis than traditional eye-chart testing. Special to The Forum2 / 3
The Fargo Lions Club has provided free vision screening for more than 8,500 children in the area. Special to The Forum3 / 3

FARGO — A child being able to see is fundamental in the learning process. Whether it's reading the smart board in the classroom or kicking a ball on the playground, children can experience negative effects of uncorrected vision problems in many areas of their development.

Through the Sight 4 Kidz program, the Fargo Lions Club is helping combat the issue, having screened nearly 50,000 children at schools and childcare facilities across North Dakota. In those screenings, 10 12 percent of children need to be referred to an eye care professional.

'The earlier, the better'

Fargo Lions Board of Directors Member Mel Olson is the co-founder and co-coordinator of the Sight 4 Kidz project for the state of North Dakota. He is a retired educator who spent 49 years as a teacher, coach, secondary principal, superintendent, state director of Career & Technical Education Board and director of the North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS) campus in Fargo.

"The goal of the North Dakota Sight 4 Kidz project is to assure that no child needs to suffer with an undetected vision disability," Olson says. "The earlier, the better is important to correct a child's vision problems."

The Fargo Lions Club has provided vision screening for public schools, childcare providers and preschools in the area for the past two years and is currently in the process of contacting all Fargo child care centers and preschool providers to set up schedules for this year.

'An invaluable tool'

Heather Stephens, a nurse with Fargo Cass Public Health, works with the Lions to screen children across Fargo, emphasizing the importance of these tests.

"When we think about doing vision screening with the elementary population, we know the ability to see is directly related to success in learning and classroom expectations," Stephens says.

Through fundraising efforts and a grant from Lions International, Lions Clubs throughout North Dakota purchased specialized screening devices that test for farsightedness, nearsightedness, astigmatism and anisometropia, or one eye having more power and focus than the other.

"The reason the eye vision screener is such an invaluable tool for us is that it reduces the margin of error that we find with traditional spelling chart testing," Stephens says. "The only thing required when we use the screener is that the student sits still with their eyes open for a couple of minutes, whereas with the spelling chart, they have to identify numbers, letters and shapes."

The screenings aid in early diagnosis when conditions are most treatable so that children can be referred to local eye care professionals, many of whom partner with the Lions to provide care at a free or discounted rate to those who qualify.

Though nearly 50,000 children have been screened by the Lions, Olson notes that there are still thousands more to reach, which is why partners and volunteers like Stephens are invaluable.

"We just really appreciate the opportunity to get to work with them," Stephens says. "We appreciate all of the volunteers that work with the Lions, too. Obviously without them, the testing that we provide wouldn't be possible."

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