The company, one of the Sacramento region’s largest employers, has come to the visual aid of nearly 630,000 young people at a cost of $96 million since establishing its Sight for Students program in 1997.
“It’s one of the ways the company gives back to communities. We help children who have fallen through the cracks,” says Janet Vorwerck, VSP’s charity care program manager.
Vision Service Plan works with school nurses, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and other organizations to identify children who aren’t able to get regular eye care because they are homeless or underinsured. Qualified youngsters receive a gift certificate redeemable at any eye doctor in VSP’s national network, including Sacramento optometrist April Omoto.
“Eighty percent of learning happens through vision, so if there is any problem, they will be at a disadvantage,” Omoto says. “Vision changes generally occur gradually, especially in children. It’s so common that when we see a child with vision problems and give them their glasses, it’s like a new world has been opened to them.”
Jessie Mills, a freshman at Sacramento City College, has worn glasses since sixth grade. Her father always made sure she had the eyeglasses she needed — until he walked out of her life.
“Ever since I was 14, I’ve pretty much been on my own,” she says. “My dad wasn’t too stable, and he kind of left me in Sacramento. I stayed with my stepsister until she kicked me out, and then I stayed at my grandma’s house, but she and my grandfather both died a couple of weeks apart.”
Mills ended up at the Wind Youth Center for homeless teens. It was there that she heard about VSP’s Sight for Students program.
“I have really bad vision for an 18 year old. I can’t really see without my glasses,” she says. “This morning, I had left my glasses in the bathroom and was looking everywhere for the remote control. It was right in front of me.”
Last May, about the time she finished high school, Mills toured VSP’s offices as part of the company’s joint job-share program with Junior Achievement of Sacramento Inc. She was hired as an intern last August and now also works eight hours a week at the Wind Youth Center.
“I’ve seen it make a difference in my life,” she says.
Mills is taking two classes at City College and says she can’t decide whether to major in political science or become a model.
“I’m doing good now,” she says.
Shane Snyder has been fighting his whole life. He is 46 years old and has Usher syndrome, a genetic disorder affecting hearing and vision.
Doug Pringle lost a leg to the Vietnam War in 1968. He was recovering at the Presidio of San Francisco hospital the day World War II veterans stopped by for a visit.