While a Tuesday morning event represented just one of the 140 stops that the Eagles Eye Mobile is expected to make this year, it meant the world to John Wister Elementary School Principal Donna Smith.
What stood out most about the RV that’d been transformed into a traveling vision-services provider wasn’t that dozens of students got to meet Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Akeem Jordan outside the Germantown school.
Though that was a pretty good perk.
It also wasn’t the oversized check presentation through which Independence Blue Cross Foundation president Lorina Marshall-Blake donated $50,000 so the Eagles Youth Partnership could continue to “improve the lives of children by giving them the gift of sight and helping them get the best possible start in life.”
Even though that was part of it.
What meant the most to Smith, as she stood in a sporadic drizzle outside the East Bringhurst Street school, was seeing her excited “babies” getting the kind of attention that does not regularly focus on their part of the city.
“It hurts to see them struggle, not being able to see well, but then here comes an opportunity to get an eye exam,” said Smith, moments after a half dozen students flanked Jordan and did an E-A-G-L-E-S chant. “Oh my God, anything that helps my babies learn is a blessing for us.”
Out of sight
That right there is the point of a program which targets elementary and middle schools where four out of five children come from families at or below the federal poverty level.
Since its 1996 inception, the Eye Mobile Program has provided eye exams for more than 37,000 children, of which 27,000 needed, and got, two pairs of glasses as a result. Those numbers grew on Tuesday, too, as several students were found to need glasses to help them stop squinting while trying to focus on learning.
As Rachel Weiner, director of programs for the Eagles Youth Partnership, explained, schools are selected when a school nurse finds a need, followed by at least 25 students having signed permission/consent forms to participate.
She said the mobile, which is staffed by an optometrist and two contracted health technicians, is out and about every day between October and June, examining an estimated 3,000 kids annually, mostly in Philadelphia.
Like on Tuesday, an eye exam is then administered in the Mobile Eye Lab with glasses then arriving for the students in about three weeks.
Of the gift from the IBC Foundation, she said, “The funding will help more of our region’s vulnerable children receive the quality vision care they need and deserve. Proper eye care is essential … to ensure they can succeed in school and later in life.”
Jordan, whose thumb was in a brace because of a tackling-related injury in Sunday’s game but said he’d be fine for next week’s contest, said he was happy to be there, next to an RV which features his smiling mug on it already.
“The kids come up to me and ask what happened in the game, but there’s no good or bad there,” he said when asked about the rarity of hearing Eagles cheers this disappointing season. “They’re just going to school and living their lives, and now some of them will be able to do better in class. Innocence. That’s what they have. It’s great to see something like this happening.”