Sight Savers: RSVP Volunteers Help Screen Children's Vision

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RSVP volunteers of Daviess County Indiana perform vision screenings for preschool children.

Seeing is believing. RSVP volunteers in Indiana believe that all children have the right to see and see well. And thanks to Prevent Blindness Indiana, which trains RSVPs to conduct vision tests, they can play an important role in making sure that happens.

According to Prevent Blindness Indiana, “one in four children will start school this year with undetected vision problems that can impair their ability to learn and become a productive citizen of Indiana.” Vision screenings like the ones conducted by these RSVP volunteers have proven to be the most effective in identifying problems early to preserve eyesight in children.

One of the most successful programs is in Daviess County, where more than 40 RSVP volunteers perform vision screenings for 1,500 children annually. This mix of retired nurses and volunteers take their job very seriously, holding themselves to a high standard to ensure that children enter school with healthy and accurate eyesight.

When a child shows a problem during the initial screening for acuity, depth perception, or amblyopia (lazy eye), they are referred to an optometrist.

The RSVP program may have even saved a child's life. During one screening, a 4-year-old girl had a poor screen with inconsistent results. She was referred to an optometrist who determined the problem was not with her eyesight, but a neurological issue. Upon being referred her to a pediatric neurologist, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had surgery within a week. Fortunately, she has fully recovered, and her doctor cited early detection as the key to her successful treatment and recovery.

Retired nurse and RSVP volunteer Betty Huelsman started as a volunteer 10 years ago and has been instrumental in the vision screenings for eight years.

“I retired and wanted something to with my time,” said Huelsman. “On my team, we screen Amish and Mennonite schools. They are such well-behaved children and it's such wonderful experience. It's funny to see how the boys don't like to wear the glasses, but it's good that we were able to provide them with a screening to show they need them.”

Her team completes all the screenings at one school in a morning or afternoon. For Huelsman, her contributions to her community go a long way.

“It keeps me busy and it just does my heart so much good to give back. I get more out of it than I give, which is why RSVP is such a marvelous program.”

Colleen Behme and her husband, Robert, are also active RSVP volunteers in the program.

“So many people think when they retire, all there is to do is sit and watch TV” said Behme, a retired nurse who heads a screening team of four volunteers.

“There's just so much good you can do in just a few hours a week, it's amazing.”

About RSVP

Established in 1971 and now one of the largest senior volunteer organizations in the nation, RSVP engages more than 400,000 people age 55 and older in a diverse range of volunteer activities. Volunteers tutor children, renovate homes, teach English to immigrants, assist victims of natural disasters, provide independent living services, recruit and manage other volunteers, and serve their communities in many other ways.

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