Ocala Lions Club volunteers offer youth vision screenings through KidSight.
The Ocala Lions Club gives kids ages 1 to 6 vision screenings wherever they can–in the school cafeteria, the school library, even a coat closet. All the club’s trained volunteers need is the ability to dim the lights and they can give state-of-the-art screening procedures to help detect some vision problems before they become irreversible.
There are several Lions Clubs in Marion County. The Ocala Lions Club, established in 1926, is one of the oldest clubs in Florida. Like all the others, it is an arm of one of the largest community service organizations in the world, with more than 1.4 million members in over 46,000 clubs worldwide.
The major community outreach for the members of the Ocala Lions Club is KidSight, a free vision screening program administered in conjunction with the Florida KidSight Foundation.
Kathy Snyder, the Ocala Lions Club coordinator for KidSight, helps run the screenings twice a week at preschools and VPK programs throughout Marion County. She reaches out to schools in her database and provides them with consent forms to send home to parents.
The club also offers screenings for back-to-school events and through churches and fairs. Every club member who administers the screenings undergoes training to use the specialized equipment, Snyder notes.
“Almost all kids have had their eyes tested for the last 100 years,” Snyder says. “But if you go to a typical pediatrician, or the county health nurse, they do the Snellen eye chart tests. The Snellen eye chart tests for one thing and that is acuity of vision.”
It does not test for conditions such as amblyopia (lazy eye), which oftentimes is caught through a refraction error test, Snyder notes.
“Amblyopia is basically a dysfunction that happens between the eye and the brain,” she explains. “It is permanent if you don’t start treating it before the child is too old. That’s why we do the little ones.”
The Ocala Lions Club volunteers use two cameras they purchased in 2010 from Plusoptix, a German company that manufactures handheld, binocular photorefraction devices.
The cameras “shoot an infrared beam of light through the pupils,” Snyder explains. “And then it measures how the lens of the eye bends that light and where that light lands back by the optic nerve.”
If the cameras show a potential vision problem, the volunteer then recommends the child to a doctor.
“Families have taken that to heart,” says John Renyhart, a club director and program volunteer. “They’ve gone to see their ophthalmologist and they’ve addressed the issues. If it can be addressed, then we clearly have hit a home run because likely, whatever the condition is, it will be corrected.”
The club’s website has a link to a video that talks about how the KidSight program helped save one boy’s eyesight.
Last year, the Ocala Lions Club screened 2,100 kids, surpassing their average by 900 screenings, Snyder shares. The group of 15 volunteers conducts the screenings at around 40 schools each year.
The club has around 80 members. They also serve the community with programs such as Silent Santa, through which Renyhart estimates they have helped more than 13,000 youngsters since they began that program in 1994, as well as through scholarships and back-to-school donations. The club funds the programs, including KidSight, largely through a golf tournament on the first Saturday in December each year at the Ocala Golf Club, which raises around $25,000 annually. OS
To learn more about the Ocala Lions Club, go to e-clubhouse.org/sites/ocalafl