Windows to the soul

Lions mobile screening unit makes a stop in Hood River

Eyes are the window to the soul.

They also help a lot when it comes to reading, writing and ’rithmetic, and that’s why local Lions clubs and Cascade Eye Center teamed up last week to perform eye screenings at all Hood River Valley elementary schools.

“We test for nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism and a host of other issues that can potentially interfere with children’s ability to learn,” said Dr. Chris Barbour, an optometrist with Cascade Eye Center.

The screenings were done in the Lions Mobile Screening Unit — a large trailer that travels the state courtesy of the Oregon Lions Sight & Hearing Foundation — which was set up at a different elementary school each day last week. The main part of the trailer is equipped for basic vision testing, and Barbour and Martin provided some of their own high-tech equipment as well. There’s also a small room in the trailer where hearing testing is done on a few select kids.

Hood River is one of the only towns in the state where eye doctors do the testing; in most places the Lions, volunteer community members, teachers and school nurses do it.

“This is so good to have these doctors here,” said Wally Anderson, the Mobile Screening Unit driver. “It really speeds things up.” Anderson works full time driving the unit — one of two — around the state. The Oregon Lions Sight & Hearing Foundation foots most of the bill for the testing, which is offered free to schools. Operating the Mobile Unit costs upwards of $600 per day, according to Art Carroll, Odell Lions Club member and coordinator of the school screenings. Local Lions clubs are asked to donate $60 to “sponsor” a day of screenings, as well as provide volunteers to help out throughout the day.

All of the Hood River Valley Lions clubs participated in last week’s screenings. The Upper Valley Lions sponsored Monday’s screenings at Parkdale Elementary; Tuesday, the Odell Lioness and Hood River Leos co-sponsored the screenings at Pine Grove Elementary; the Odell Lions sponsored Wednesday’s event at Mid-Valley Elementary; the Hood River Lions sponsored May Street Elementary on Thursday; and the Hood River Eyeopener Lions sponsored Friday’s screenings at Westside Elementary.

The doctors from Cascade Eye Center got involved in doing the screenings five years ago when they first came to town. They called May Street School and offered their services during the annual school health screenings.

“It seemed like a great way to integrate into this community,” Barbour said. They got such a positive response that they began getting calls from other schools.

The two doctors also were members of the Lions Club, whose state-wide Sight and Hearing Foundation has been involved with community screenings for years. The doctors and the Lions began collaborating on the screenings the next year, when the Mobile Screening Unit came to area schools for the first time.

The collaboration has been going strong ever since; last week, the Lions and Barbour and Martin saw more than 1,600 students in the Hood River Valley.

“It’s really a collaborative effort with the Lions, the health department, the school district and Cascade Eye Center,” Martin said.

“It’s a fun thing to be able to work with the kids,” Barbour said.

“It mixes up our routine a bit,” Martin added.

Dan Patton, principal at May Street Elementary, sees the Lions screenings — and the eye doctors — as a godsend.

“Prior to the Lions doing this, most schools would just use the Snellen eye chart,” Patton said. “It’s a helpful tool, but not nearly as effective as having professionals do it.” Patton added that the schools would never be able to afford the screenings if they weren’t offered free of charge.

“It’s a tremendous benefit for our students and families,” he said. After the screenings, the school district sends letters home to the parents of all students notifying them of the results. If any potential problems were noted by the doctors, parents are urged to take their child for a thorough exam with an eye-care professional. Included in the letter is a list of all eye-care professionals in the area, as well as contact information for the county health department where they can seek financial assistance if needed (also provided by the Lions).

Some of the kids at May Street were apprehensive last week when they were led to the Mobile Unit for the screenings. But Martin and Barbour — as well as Tom Schaefer, a Lion dressed in a Goofy hat who signed every student in last week at all the schools — quickly put them at ease.

“Do you wear glasses?” Schaefer asked a student, who shook her head. “Are you sure? You didn’t put ’em under a mat? Chase ’em with a rat? Hide ’em in my hat?” Soon all the students waiting in line were giggling, and Martin and Barbour had their own jokes to tell.

“They make it fun,” Art Carroll said. “Between all of them, their fun attitude with the kids really keeps everything relaxed.”

All the better to examine those windows to the soul.

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