Briggs Elementary students seeing 20/20 thanks to Vision To Learn

Community Foundation of Jackson County supports free eye exams, glasses for kids 

Spontaneous applause broke out more than once among 25 Briggs Elementary School students during a Vision To Learn glasses-dispensing program on Wednesday, December 18. 

They clapped for their new glasses, which will help them succeed in school and beyond. “Everything is in high definition!” exclaimed one recipient when his new frames where placed on his face for the first time. “I can see again!” 

Vision To Learn provides free eye exams and glasses to children in need. Often children receive two pairs of glasses — one to take home and one to keep at school as a backup. They’re taught how to clean, store and handle their new glasses while a Vision To Learn optician ensures the frames fit comfortably.  

At Briggs, students also applauded Jackson County Vision To Learn funders, several of whom were at the event. Principal Pat Bollman introduced Steve and Elaine Kahler, who started the Jackson County Vision To Learn fund through the Community Foundation of Jackson County. “When you’re getting these glasses it’s like opening up a new world to you. You’re getting them because of the Kahlers, Vision To Learn and the Community Foundation of Jackson County,” Bollman told students. “I ask you to take care of your glasses, because they are a gift.”

Turning to funders, he went on, “Thank you for opening up the gates for 25 kids to learn.” Additional funders supporting this year's program include the Community Foundation of Jackson County, Theisen's Home•Farm•Auto, A.E. Pearson Foundation and the Maquoketa Kiwanis Club.

The Community Foundation of Jackson County, an affiliate of the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, awarded $15,000 to Vision To Learn in its spring 2019 grant cycle. The grant will allow Vision To Learn to expand its services to students in middle school and high school, in partnership with the Maquoketa Community School District, during the 2019-20 school year. 

“To date, we have provided over 115 exams and prescribed glasses for 67 Maquoketa students. We are halfway through our program in Maquoketa, with visits remaining at Cardinal Elementary and Maquoketa Middle school,” said Corrine Kroger, Vision To Learn’s Iowa regional director. In 2020-21, Vision To Learn will partner with the Easton Valley and Andrew Community School Districts to provide vision screenings, exams and glasses to students attending these schools.

The Community Foundation of Jackson County has been following Vision To Learn’s progress and has witnessed its impact on a large number of children in the county, especially in school districts where the free and reduced-price lunch rate is high. “It was easy for the board to fund this initiative,” said Community Foundation Board Member Trista Beise. “You are our future. If we can get you glasses to help you learn and become community leaders, that’s an easy choice.” 

Alongside its support for Vision To Learn, The Community Foundation has prioritized funding for the Jackson County Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and manages a robust scholarship program for seniors graduating from schools in the county. “These programs support the future of the county and help make it a great place for families to live,” said Mary Jo Gothard, executive director for the Community Foundation of Jackson County. “The hope is that if we support students in their education, eventually they’ll return home and support the places where they grew up.”

Since its Iowa launch in 2016, which was supported by the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, Vision To Learn has provided over 6,600 eye exams and prescribed eyeglasses to more than 5,300 Iowa students. “Nearly 20,000 students in Iowa lack the glasses they need,” said Kroger. “Vision To Learn bridges the gap in access to vision care so that children can be successful in school and in life."