Salus University and The Eye Institute (TEI) have entered into a new partnership with the State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Cambridge Springs in Crawford County, Pennsylvania to custom make eyeglasses for children served by the University’s Looking Out for Kids School Vision Program.

The women who are incarcerated at SCI Cambridge Springs will make approximately 200 pairs of glasses this year at the Department of Correction’s Pennsylvania Correctional Industries Optical Lab at SCI Cambridge Springs for TEI’s LOFK program. A dual-purpose program, the glasses will benefit economically disadvantaged children throughout the Norristown, Upper Darby and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, school districts as well as the incarcerated women who are working toward becoming certified opticians through the prison’s reentry program. 

Dr. Mittelman with Dr. Scombordi, state reps, and school nurse“We are thrilled to be partnering with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to provide high-quality, cost-effective glasses to our Looking Out For Kids and other vision outreach programs,” said Salus University president, Dr. Michael H. Mittelman, OD ’80, MPH, MBA, FAAO, FACHE. “This relationship provides a wonderful opportunity for those learning how to become an optician and gain valuable experiences in making glasses for a wide range of age groups while at the same time serving to help build a bridge for these individuals to a viable profession that provides a sustainable income for them. Salus and our patients also gain a great source of quality optical devices that are made with care and commitment.”

The pilot program was marked by a launch event Thursday, April 7, at Marshall Street Elementary School in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and was attended by Dr. Mittelman, several officials of SCI, Rep. Tim Briggs of the 149th District, and Brandy Scombordi, OD ’98, Resident ’99, pediatric optometrist at TEI and coordinator of the School Vision Programs. 

Rep. Briggs, who originally hails from Norristown, was excited and proud to be involved in the launch of this initiative. “To see what the SCIs do throughout the Commonwealth for their programming and to give the inmates skills and tools needed to be successful members of society when they reenter, it really is what the correction term is about,” he said. “These folks are trying to pay back their debt to society, and if we can give them the tools to be successful, that's a win in my eye.”

child looking at a mirror and giving a thumbs upKim Falco, RN, Marshall Street school nurse, noted the significant impact the LOFK program has had on the school’s students. 

“I have kindergarten students, so I identify them in September or October as needing glasses. And, I feel like I changed the whole trajectory of their educational career by having glasses when they start. In the years past we would realize in third and fourth grade that students in the lower academic classes were often the ones that were failing their vision tests. So now we're starting much earlier, which, for us, is making all the difference in the world,” said Falco. 

Fourth-year Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) at Salus students Olivia Burger ‘22OD, along with Christopher Pentes ‘22OD, were on-hand in the Mobile Vision Care Unit, also known as the “Big Red Bus,” performing comprehensive eye exams that day. 

“You get to see a lot of kids in a short period of time and it's actually really surprising the vision that they have, they're walking around and they cannot see at all. So it's really rewarding to see it front to back, once they get the glasses and are able to see,” said Burger. “They realize they're starting to see better. It's a good experience to see that positivity in the kids,” added Pentes.

dr. scombordi giving a child an eye examDr. Scombordi hopes the project continues to grow with the goal of extending the program’s vision resources to an entire school district and nonprofit organizations throughout the community. 

“The women in the prison, many of whom are currently separated from their own children, were extremely excited when we explained the program and told them the glasses will help underserved children,” she said. “They were thankful for the extra work and thrilled to learn the glasses they’re making will benefit children who are facing hardships they too may have faced prior to being incarcerated.”