The REACH Project partnered with Von’s Vision Foundation on Friday to help children of Texas A&M University essential employees get vision screenings and a free pair of glasses, if they were needed.
Keeisha Kelly, who brought her 8-year-old son Kolton to the event, called the opportunity a blessing because her son otherwise would have had to wait until December to see his doctor. Then, there is the cost of the glasses he needs.
She said her son has been diagnosed with ADHD and was acting out, even after medication to help him focus, because he could not see in school. Since he got glasses last year, she said, he is excited to be at school.
Friday’s Von’s Vision Day event was available for children of essential Aggies ages 5 to 17. REACH Project founder Max Gerall said those essential Aggies, include food service, grounds, maintenance, custodial, security and construction employees, whose positions were outsourced a decade ago to third-party contractors. For some, he said, that meant a loss of benefits.
With 250 student volunteers during the last academic year, Gerall said, the REACH Project, as a nonprofit, was able to serve 700 families through its weekly meals and adult education classes; however, there are hundreds more that could benefit with increased capacity.
“What we’re looking to do is kind of come alongside the university in that economic decision that was made, and help fill those holes in infrastructure, while engaging students to give back to their own community, helping build empathy,” he said.
Gerall said he first reached out about Von’s Vision Day in 2019, when he learned of the need. The pandemic pushed back the event, but dozens walked into Von’s Vision in the Beutel Health Center on campus to take advantage of the opportunity.
Von’s Vision, which is named for Aggie-turned-professional football player Von Miller, provides undergraduate students with a comprehensive eye exam and a free pair of prescription glasses if needed.
It was easy for the program to adjust to accommodate younger students in the community, Gerall said, and he hopes it can serve as a pilot program and expand in the future. He would like to have two or three events each year — all during times when A&M students are off campus — that could be open to the broader community instead of just children of Texas A&M employees.
“We recognize that these resources and these opportunities would be able to benefit many, many more,” he said. “We’re hoping to get to the capacity point where we can serve others as well, but we’re stretched pretty thin.”
Jason McPhee, community relations officer for Aggieland Credit Union and a volunteer during Friday’s event, said he is also hopeful the program can expand. McPhee helps coordinate volunteers through Aggieland Credit Union’s Greater Good volunteer program.
“This program is fantastic,” he said. “It gives back to the exact same things that we want. We want to give back to the community in every way possible, but definitely when it comes to children, education.”