Grantee Spotlight: Eye Thrive

December 9, 2020


“Eye Thrive removes the barriers of access and expense that stand between too many poor children and a bright future.” 

Grantee Spotlight Dec. 2020

Eye Thrive is a mobile vision clinic and state-of-the art optometry center that travels throughout the St. Louis bi-state regions administering free eye exams and dispensing prescriptions to children who need it most. On-site services eliminate barriers to healthcare and allow clinicians to reach vulnerable populations and provide vision services that empower students to succeed, add stability to their lives, and hopefully, increase quality of life for children and their families. Eye Thrive’s  mission is to ensure that no child in this  community fails to thrive simply because his or her family cannot afford glasses.  Formerly known as Eye Care Charity of Mid-America, Eye Thrive has been serving the community since 2004.   The Mobile Vision Clinic has visited over 700 schools and community centers, performed over 20,000 eye exams and dispensed more than 19,000 pairs of glasses since 2013.   

With multi-year support from Marillac Mission Fund, Eye Thrive is piloting a School-Wide Screening program with the Collinsville School District where  58.7% of their students are low-income and 23.5% are Hispanic – a population that has disproportionately high vision care needs.  The clinic provides free comprehensive eye exams and, if prescription vision correction is required, glasses to students who fail the initial vision screenings.  Two pairs of glasses are provided to students with high prescriptions and/or with any special needs as identified by a parent, teacher, or school nurse.  As needed, translators are provided  to facilitate communications and students receive English/Spanish handouts on how to care for their glasses and their eyes.   

Long term, Eye Thrive’s goal is to even the playing field for these students.  Children who can’t see properly are often subjected to unnecessary discipline at school, misdiagnosed with ADHD, unable to participate in class, and struggle with sports.  The program works! Teachers report that over 85% of the children served by Eye Thrive improved their academic performance, class participation, and self-esteem as a result of receiving eyeglasses. Early detection can prevent more than 80% of all vision impairment. The ramifications of uncorrected vision can be profound, placing these vulnerable populations at a further disadvantage. 

The pilot program with the Collinsville School District was set to begin the second semester of the 2019-2020 school year--when COVID-19 hit and closed the schools that they were scheduled to visit.  Knowing that family finances were destabilized overnight and young students were suddenly shifting to at home learning, , the Eye Thrive team  were able to work with other community services to provide students  that also prioritized the health and safety of students and staff.  They  created a new app to efficiently track their inventory of frames to always have the most popular ones on board the Mobile Vision Clinic.  Initial reopening procedures, implemented at St. Louis County Library branches over the summer and community organizations such as Hoyleton Youth and Family Services this fall, have proven successful.  

Eye Thrive also recently completed the Comprehensive Organization Assessment & Report process through Marillac Mission Fund’s COAR Program.  This report has helped them identify collective organizational strengths, opportunities and aspirations, and prepare for their upcoming strategic plan.  

Pivoting an inherently in-person service amidst a global pandemic is no easy feat, but Eye Thrive has shown that with some innovation, guidance, and support from funders like Marillac Mission Fund, anything is possible.