SALT LAKE CITY — The day Liz Player Young gets to hand-deliver glasses to underprivileged kids in her school district is magical.
"When they get their glasses, that's the magic moment. That's when it all becomes real," said Young, Salt Lake Education Foundation's development officer. "The kid gets so excited, and a smile just erupts on their face."
More than 60 volunteers helped kids get their eyes examined and, for those who needed them, pick out a frame for their new glasses Friday morning during SightFest at Northwest Middle School.
The event, organized by Friends for Sight, gave full eye exams to 95 students in the Salt Lake City School District who had failed earlier vision screenings, qualified for free or reduced lunch and did not have health insurance.
It included students from North Star, Meadowlark, Newman, Escalante, Rose Park and Backman elementary schools, as well as Northwest Middle School, Horizonte Instruction and Training Center, and Salt Lake Center for Science Education.
Young said eligible students at other schools in the district will be served at Friends for Sight clinics on Saturdays throughout the year.
Friends for Sight has only five staff members. The dozens of volunteers helping the kids throughout the eye exam process included optometrists and their staff, retired teachers, University of Utah sorority members, and others who heard of the charity by word of mouth.
Kate Edwards, the executive director of Friends for Sight, emphasized the importance of the volunteer eye doctors who administered comprehensive eye exams to the kids.
"We couldn't do this without the doctors who give up their time," Edwards said. "They're amazing."
Natalee Crook-Carter, the nonprofit's vision outreach director, added that some optometrists close down their whole office and bring their staff with them to help at SightFest. There will be four others throughout the Wasatch Front this school year.
Dr. Michael Judkins, who has volunteered at SightFests for about five years, said it feels great to help an underserved population. He has helped out students who needed glasses terribly.
"I see some kids that I frankly don't know how they find the door to get out of their house in the morning," he said. "They just don't know that the world shouldn't be blurry. They just think everybody's seeing that way."
Young added that it's sometimes a shock for kids when they receive their glasses a few weeks after the event. They get to choose from hundreds of frames donated by Essilor Vision Foundation, then the frames are sent to Denver to have custom lenses installed for each child.
"It's life-changing. They discovered this world that they didn't know existed for their whole life until now," she said.Comment on this story
Carolyn Gilstrap, a retired teacher who volunteers with Friends for Sight, said vision problems make it hard for students to learn, and it also can lead to problems with behavior. Sometimes, she said, the student might become reclusive and lose confidence.
"Oftentimes, teachers can pick it up. But oftentimes, you cannot," Gilstrap said. "Then to watch the children when they do get their glasses fitted and actually see the difference, the teachers see a difference immediately. It's really, really exciting."