During Project See to Succeed, bright, shining eyes accompanied by wide smiles filled the City of Houston’s West End Health Center, as an army of volunteers including missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) helped the children navigate the comprehensive eye exam process.
With its coalition of partners including The Houston Health Foundation, Berkeley Eye Center, University of Houston, San Jacinto College, and Kids Vision for Life, Project See to Succeed will provide 10,500 children with free eye exams and eye glasses this school year. Over 32,000 children from area school districts and charter schools such as HISD, Galena Park, Alief, and Kipp Academy have benefitted since the program’s inception.
Program Supervisor Patricia Bledsoe is passionate about helping these children. “This program removes all barriers for the child getting glasses. Any child that is identified by a school nurse or teacher is served. Through research in HISD, kids who come through this program perform better academically,” she said.
Bledsoe noted that area optometrists, other eye care professionals and volunteers from local business and the community take vacation days and give their time. “Ten to twenty (Mormon) missionaries come each day, Tuesday through Friday and they also support the project Saving Smiles. They are constantly supportive and we really appreciate it,” Bledsoe added.
Project See to Succeed Medical Director Pat Segu, O.D. was grateful for the missionaries’ support. “It makes a difference. It takes all of us working together,” she said. Dr. Segu, Clinical Associate Professor with the University of Houston College of Optometry sees many doctors who were former students and alumni returning to give back. Debra Clarke, San Jacinto College eye care technology program director coordinated student volunteers from their facility.
According to the Kid’s Vision for Life See to Succeed program, eighty percent of what children learn comes through their eyes. Poor vision can affect a child’s emotional, neurological and physical development. One in four children have an uncorrected vision problem that can cause problems in learning and behavior.
Cydney Cameron, Volunteer Coordinator for the Houston Health Foundation understands this first hand. “I have been wearing glasses since a very young age. I was one of the kids that could not see the chalkboard. I know the importance of being able to see,” she said. Cameron also commented on the Mormon missionaries. “They have been fabulous. They have been very kind and enthusiastic. A lot of our staff request having the missionaries help them,” she said.
Elder Jordan Freestone, a Mormon missionary who has been serving in Houston for 21 months waved his sign to direct children to the next station. “We come and help the kids get around. It’s nice to see the kids with a smile on their face because they are getting glasses. It’s really awesome because my dad is an optometrist. He does this in other countries as well as school districts in California. I’m so glad I can help,” Freestone said.
Sister Mele Fin’iahi whose family is from Tonga just arrived 6 weeks ago to serve as a missionary in Houston. “I like helping the children,” she said. “When you are in the service of others you are in the service of God,” she added.
President Aaron Hall, serving as the President of the Houston Texas South Mission, one of three missions in the Houston area for the Mormon Church, visited the site to see the project in action. Watching over 200 missionaries, Hall is grateful for the opportunity the missionaries have to perform service. “We have the opportunity for each missionary to do 10-12 hours of service per week,” he said. This rounds out to 2,000-2,400 hours of service each week in this one area.
Besides the service to the community President Hall noted that the missionaries also benefit. “Service helps them be involved more broadly in the community. It expands their vision to opportunities they would never have anticipated. When we serve we are happier, so as they serve they are happy. They are purposeful,” Hall added.
The missionaries will be able to see the project come full circle as they will get to help with the delivery of the glasses within four to six weeks. There are sure to be more bright shining eyes and wide smiles.