A Closer Look: History of Looking Out for Kids

The Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO)/Salus University and its clinical providers at The Eye Institute (TEI) have a long and distinguished history of providing comprehensive vision care services to underserved children and their families. With a recognition that access to comprehensive pediatric vision care represents one of the many barriers to receiving care for disadvantaged children in our region, the College committed to improving access to comprehensive eye care through collaborations with the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) and Head Start programs.

Exam at Norristown
Initial collaborations with the SDP and Head Start involved providing vision screenings for children throughout Philadelphia’s public schools. It became very clear that providing vision screenings and identifying children with problems fell short. The vast majority of the children found to have failed a vision screening did not go on to receive the definitive comprehensive vision and ocular health examination. In the early 2000s, The Eye Institute responded to that unfortunate reality by facilitating the transport of children who failed the vision screening to The Eye Institute’s pediatric service for definitive care.

The motivation for providing comprehensive vision care services is solidly based in the following:
  • One in four  children have a vision problem significant enough to affect their school performance.
  • School vision screenings detect only 20-30% of vision problems in school.
  • 80% of children who are reading disabled have vision problems that can be solved.
  • 75-90% of classroom learning comes through the visual system.
These reasons and many others provide the basis for The Eye Institute’s commitment to providing comprehensive vision care to as many disadvantaged children as possible.

It was clear that providing transport to our clinical facilities, rendering care, and providing eyeglasses to those children who needed them most was going to require resources. In 2007, Dr. Susan Oleszewski ‘76 (Dr. O), then the vice president of Clinical Operations committed to raising the dollars necessary to provide this important Public Health Service. It was in that year that the first “Looking Out for Kids” charity fundraiser took place. Having very few “party-planning” resources at her finger tips Dr. O relied on the generosity of others at TEI and PCO to organize the event. The first LOFK fundraiser took place at the Hafter Student Community Center and although it didn’t  raise a lot of money, the success of that first year could be graded by the tremendous support that College faculty and staff provided and the attendance of so many alumni.

Looking Out for Kids 2007 - LJ Smith
Since that first fundraiser the charity has enjoyed continued growth and success. With that success came the ultimate goal of providing care to more and more children. As a result, the charity’s efforts have allowed PCO/Salus to expand its reach. In addition to providing care to disadvantaged children in the Philadelphia public schools, teams are now providing care to children in Montgomery County (public school children in Norristown, Jenkintown, Cheltenham, and Abington) and Delaware County (William Penn School District and Chester-Upland School District).
Using resources creatively, the model of care used to provide services are based upon what works best within the particular school district. The models used included transporting children to our clinical facilities as we continue with Philadelphia public school children; establishing a school based vision clinic in Norristown, and using a mobile vision care van for many of the other districts we serve. During the last academic year the collective efforts of the LOFK charity provided comprehensive vision care services to nearly 800 children. Approximately 2,000 pairs of eyeglasses were provided, as often two pairs of glasses were provided for each child, one pair to take home and one pair to leave at their school.

Mobile Unit Vision Screening Dr. Scombordi
In summary, the growth and evolution of the “Looking Out for Kids” charity has been impactful. In addition to the support that the University community provides every year, the charity has enjoyed the continual support of many corporate sponsors who have been there year after year. The successful delivery of comprehensive pediatric vision care after a child has failed a vision screening has been a long standing challenge. The “Looking Out for Kids”’ charity has been able to take on that challenge and is making a difference in the lives of economically disadvantaged children in our region. Ensuring that all children have quality vision will help to ensure academic success and success in life.

Learn More about LOFK