Carter County students receive free eye exams, glasses

For many children, vision is just as much a commodity as their weekly allowance, something they can only appreciate some of the time. For one lab in East Tennessee, however, this is simply unacceptable.

Roughly 200 students from 14 Carter County Schools, from pre-K to seniors in high school, met at Valley Forge Freewill Baptist Church Thursday to get free eye exams and prescriptions, courtesy of Essilor Labs.

Regional Operations Director Mikki Daniel said this is their third year putting on this event.

“There is a need here, and so many children fit that need,” Daniel said.

Students who entered the church got to receive a free eye exam, pick out their frames and determine their prescription. Later, they will receive a shiny new pair of glasses made just for them, at no cost whatsoever to the family. The glasses are made in their lab in Piney Flats, between Bluff City and Johnson City in Sullivan County.

“There are no words to express how humbling this experience is,” she said.

A pair of glasses can be a costly addition to a family’s expenses, particularly in areas like Carter County where average incomes are lower, yet for many children, the expense is crucial to living a productive and healthy life.

She said 44 percent of parents “are not aware that behavioral problems can be an indication that a child’s vision is impaired,” further highlighting the need to perform such eye exams for students who may not have access to the care they need.

“I know what it is like not being able to see,” Daniel said. “I learned the value of sight.”

She said the workers, including employees of Essilor, those from the church and even students from Hampton High School, were all volunteering their time to give these children a chance to better see the world around them.

This event is part of the company’s larger focus towards serving its community, distributing more than 500,000 pairs of glasses to people in need since 2007.

“I am loving our mission statement,” Daniel said. “Improving lives by improving sight.”

The event has grown since it began in Unicoi County, however. Now, volunteers come from neighboring states, including Mississippi and South Carolina.

“This is my favorite time of the year,” Daniel said. “It is my passion.”

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