The Young Eyes Project brings kids' visual needs into focus
Daniel Island resident Ryan Gedney considers himself one of the lucky ones. Diagnosed with congenital glaucoma at just 8 months old, he had all the resources he needed to overcome his condition - good access to vision care, therapy, and glasses.
“Growing up, I had access to all of this eye care that helped me be able to develop and learn,” said Gedney, who now works as an engineer in the neuroscience department at MUSC through an affiliated company. “If I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t be where I am today. The past couple of years, I’ve been thinking of ways I can give back to the eye care community.”
Eager to pay his own good fortune forward, and inspired by the work of organizations like the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ABVI), Gedney has established the Young Eyes Project (YEP) in Charleston as a way to help local kids with visual challenges.
“I saw a need for kids of all ages who didn’t have access to eye care to have an opportunity where they can get glasses for free,” he said. “…Twenty five percent of children that have a learning disability have that disability because they don’t have proper eye care. If they were able to see better, that disability wouldn’t be as much of an issue. That’s a big problem in the classroom when kids can’t see the chalkboard and really can’t follow the lesson as well as they could with glasses.”
According to a flyer Gedney created for YEP, of the 73.6 million children in America under the age of 17, approximately 10 million have trouble learning to read and about 10 percent of children have learning disabilities. Having proper eye care can make all the difference, said Gedney. He recognizes that there are plenty of wonderful organizations that collect eye glasses on a larger scale and do international missions, but few, if any, that keep the resources local.
As part of YEP, Gedney is now collecting new or gently used glasses at the Daniel Island School (a box has been set up to accept donations). And, starting at the end of the month, Belle Hall Elementary School in Mount Pleasant will also be a YEP collection site. Eventually, he’d like to be able to offer free clinics, in partnership with ABVI, where kids can not only get access to glasses, but also fittings, therapies and screenings.
“I would love for it to be a continuous thing where we constantly have these glasses cycling from these donations to these clinics…where people always have access,” he said. “I don’t want it to be a ‘one and done’ type of thing…I’ve never had a relapse (of my glaucoma). I’ve been fine and have worn glasses my whole life, which is what made me think about how I got so lucky having all the treatments that I did. I feel like other people should be able to have that as well.”
For additional information on the Young Eyes Project, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.