Vinton Host Lions conduct annual preschool vision screenings.

Denny Dickens from the Vinton Host Lions Club uses advanced camera technology to conduct vision screenings in local preschools.
The Welch Allyn vision screeners capture vision data in seconds.

Each year members of the Vinton Host Lions Club conduct vision screenings in area preschools and in the local elementary schools in kindergarten and third grade. Private preschool screenings are usually in the late winter and early spring.

They screen the elementary school students in the fall when other health screenings are being conducted as mandated by state law.

Preschools which they have or will be screening this spring include Evangel Child Care Ministries, Bonsack Baptist, Mineral Springs Baptist, Lynn Haven Baptist, Children’s Castle, Thrasher Memorial UMC, Good Shepherd, Parkway Wesleyan, and the Greenvale School in Roanoke City.

Lion Denny Dickens heads up the project with another Lion accompanying him to assist in the process. On March 16, Dickens and Russell Wise visited the Evangel Child Care Ministries at Evangel Foursquare Church on Hardy Road. They spent less than an hour screening about 20 preschoolers. Catching vision problems early is paramount because after the age 8 there are a number of vision issues that cannot be corrected.

The process is so quick because the Lions make use of advanced technology— hand-held cameras do the screenings, replacing the familiar, old-fashioned Snellen eye charts, which had children identify letters or familiar objects or animals.

The camera technology has greatly improved the accuracy of the screening process and cut down on incorrect diagnoses. The cameras are virtually foolproof; even the most distractible child is able to focus for the seconds it takes for the screening to be completed.

The Lions, not just in Vinton, but across the state, use Welch Allyn vision screeners, described by the company as “handheld, portable devices designed to help users quickly and easily detect vision issues in patients from six months of age through adult. The camera screens both eyes at once from a non-threatening three-foot distance.” Children who already have corrective lenses can be screened with the camera as well. Screenings are only completed with parent permission.

The use of the camera-type screening also reduces the child’s apprehension since it takes just a few seconds of focusing on flashing lights. An infrared light is projected through the pupils onto the retina and captures the vision data, which appears on the camera display screen. The cameras can detect near-sightedness, far-sightedness, unequal refractive power, blurred vision and eye structure problems like astigmatism, pupil size deviations, and eye misalignment.

The Lions enter only the child’s age to protect their identity— no names or birthdates. All data is erased at the end of the screening session. They use a wireless printer to export data of only those students who may have a vision problem.

Out of the 19 children screened at Evangel Child Care, only one was identified with a possible problem. The Lions send a letter to the parents of any children in whom they detect problems, which says, “While this screening is not diagnostic nor performed by certified health personnel, it did suggest that your child should be further examined by an eye care professional such as an optometrist or ophthalmologist.”

Evangel Child Care Director Susan King says several students at Evangel Child Care now have glasses because of Lions screenings in past years.

Lions have been screening at Evangel for around 10 years. In the early years, the technology consisted of a Polaroid camera with special film. Photos were taken and then screened individually by Vinton optometrist Dr. Neal Jessup. Tremendous advances have occurred in the field since then.

Lions are recognized worldwide for their emphasis on programs and services for the blind and visually impaired – and their aim to eliminate preventable and reversible blindness.

Their mission began in 1925 when Helen Keller addressed their convention and challenged the Lions to be “Knights of the Blind.”

Evangel Child Care has been a ministry of the Evangel Foursquare church since 1972 and “provides religious education and age appropriate instruction for children ages 2-12,” in a safe and nurturing environment.” The school utilizes classrooms, the gym, kitchen, outside play area, and sanctuary of the church for its programming.

Hours of operation are 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. The facility offers full-time and part-time care for children throughout the year, including before and after-school and summer programs for school-age children with transportation to W.E. Cundiff, Herman L. Horn, and Goodview Elementary Schools during the school year.

Director King says that the preschool has no openings presently but does maintain a waiting list. She has been with the preschool for over 20 years and became director in 2008.

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