Just this past June, I (Andrew) had the privilege of volunteering at the Special Olympics in Stillwater with the Opening Eyes Program, supported in large by the Lions Club International Foundation (LCIF).

Opening Eyes is one segment of a larger effort called Healthy Athletes, which provides care in several areas including FitFeet (podiatry), Healthy Hearing (audiology), and Special Smiles (dentistry). The program performs detailed vision screenings and provides education about vision conditions, as well as free corrective and protective eyewear for the athletes. Information gathered from these screenings is entered into a database that is then used to advocate for improved health care policies for persons with intellectual disabilities.

According to the LCIF website, “research has shown that among Special Olympics athletes, 68 percent have not had an eye examination in three years, 37 percent are in need of eyeglasses and 18 percent wear clinically-incorrect eyeglasses.” In order to bridge these gaps, the LCIF partnered with the Special Olympics in 2001 to begin vision screenings at their sporting events worldwide with a multi-year, multi-million dollar commitment. Since, more that 350,000 athletes have been screened with prescription eyewear provided to nearly 99,000 athletes. Pretty cool!

I was really impressed with the size and scope of the Opening Eyes set up. The tent was at least ten times the size of any other at the event, allowing for the multiple stations and variety of screenings, including shape chart differentiation, color recognition, and full refraction. As well, I was impressed with the level of respect and attention that is given to the athletes. The spirit of the event is nothing but positive.

For my part, I was mainly involved in making the eyewear, something I also do everyday at SPECS OPTICAL. Hundreds of frames and lenses were donated, allowing us to produce many of the prescribed eyeglasses and sport glasses on the spot. I know I did at least 45 pairs the first day. It was non-stop operation from 8am to 4pm. A good 200 pairs of eyeglasses were shipped off to be made (in these cases, the lenses were not immediately available) and then shipped directly to the athletes.

On the last day, a mother of one of the athletes came to our station to tell us about her daughter’s experience with the Special Olympics. She told us that, while she had a great event, her daughter exclaimed that she absolutely loved her new glasses and it was her favorite part of the entire weekend. Wow. I don’t think I could have felt any happier than at that moment.

One other thing I thought was really cool was that, in addition to all the medals they won, each athlete was given a badge to wear around their neck that listed each of the Healthy Athlete areas on it. For each one they visited, they got a punch or stamp, which they could then redeem for a variety of prizes. I thought this was a great way to encourage all the athletes to bring attention to their overall health and feel a sense of pride about it.

While I unfortunately did not get much time to spectate the events, I could hear the excitement and words of encouragement coming from the track throughout the day. There was also a steady stream of entertainment, including dancing, fun picture taking, unicyclists, jugglers, etc. So much good happening at every turn. It was a great way to spend a weekend!

If you would like to know more about the Lions Club International Foundation and the Special Olympics, or would like to make a donation to either organization, click on either for a direct link. And, feel free to ask me about my experience any time you are in the shop!



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