By Kristen Oliver at the Opelika-Auburn news

Students at Greater Peace Child Development Center in Opelika received eye screenings Tuesday through the efforts of FocusFirst Initiative, marking over 200,000 children screened through the program.

FocusFirst is an initiative of Impact Alabama that administers routine vision screenings for state preschoolers. It provides a cost-effective response to the vision problems of children who would not regularly receive eye care.

The initiative employs undergraduate and graduate students who, under the supervision of Impact Alabama AmeriCorps members, screen children between the ages of six months to 5 years in Head Starts and lower-income daycares in Alabama.

Stephen Black, founder and president of Impact Alabama, said more than 800 children were screened in Lee County alone last year. More than 1,100 centers in Alabama participate in the program, which uses high-tech photo optic scan cameras to identify any eye health problems in the children.

Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard joined Black at Greater Peace Child Development Center Tuesday to celebrate the accomplishment of screening 200,000 children.

“All children deserve to start school with the best vision medically possible,” Black said. “We are proud to have the state of Alabama as a partner on this important day.”

Hubbard commended Black and his “tremendous operation” for what they do for the young people of Alabama.

“The well-being of Alabama children is always our number one priority and I am proud to be a part of this significant milestone,” Hubbard said. “FocusFirst’s efforts have improved and saved the sight of thousands of children across Alabama and I applaud them for their important work. Great things start in Alabama, and I hope that other states will pay attention to this fantastic program and adopt it across the country.”

Black said it’s important to detect and identify vision problems as early as possible to maximize a child’s health and learning capacity in school. Since FocusFirst began in 2004, more than 2,500 college students have participated in the initiative, screening children in all 67 counties.

Black said approximately 10 percent of children today have vision problems or potential vision problems. They receive subsidized follow-up care as necessary through Sight Savers America.

“We kind of fill a gap,” said Lance Hyche, public relations representative for the program. “They get screened in school in grades two and three, but we try to do it earlier so that they are screened and potential problems are addressed before they get in school and it starts causing problems with reading and learning and that kind of thing.”

Impact Alabama was incorporated in 2004 as the state’s first nonprofit dedicated to developing service-learning projects with students from 25 universities and colleges throughout the state.

For more information, visit the FocusFirst Initiative page. Learn how you can get involved or donate to support our efforts to expand our tax initiative in 2015. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013