Interview with Kristin Ellsworth on giving back

I’ve been talking a lot about the Great Glasses Play Day that’s happening this Sunday.  And it would not have happened at all without Kristin Ellsworth, the founder of Peeps Eyewear and the author of “Princesses Wear Glasses.”  She is the Program Chair for Prevent Blindness Wisconsin and was recently appointed to its Board.  She and her husband live in Madison, WI and have three daughters, the youngest proudly wears glasses.

I met Kristin about a year ago and was blown away by her energy and her passion for children’s vision and her work to make sure that children who need glasses love their glasses.  I’ve often thought about ways of giving back and helping other families with children who have vision issues, and I’m inspired by how much Kristin does.  I wanted to share an interview I did with her, focusing on her work with Prevent Blindness Wisconsin.  – Ann Z

Tell me a little about your daughter getting glasses.

My daughter was three years old when my sister noticed one of her eyes turned in slightly. I hadn’t noticed it. My husband and I took her to a pediatric ophthalmologist who diagnosed her with Strabismus and Amblyopia. I was shocked, I had no idea she wasn’t seeing clearly. We began patching her strong eye in order to stimulate her weaker one. We also found her a pair of glasses that she seemed fine wearing.

What inspired you to write your book, Princesses Wear Glasses?

One day my daughter was playing dress-up when everything got quiet. I peeked around the corner and saw her staring at her image in the mirror. I asked her what was wrong and she said, “Princesses DON’T wear glasses.” Then she threw her glasses to the floor. I was surprised because she was only three years old and hadn’t been exposed to a lot of princess things. She started hiding her glasses around the house and refused to wear them. It became a problem, so I got out some paper and markers and created a story about an adventurous girl who saves the day wearing her glasses – she just happened to be a princess, too! My daughter loved the story and stopped hiding her glasses. I decided I could do something to help other young children feel good about wearing glasses.

What led you to start volunteering with Prevent Blindness Wisconsin?

I was fortunate my daughter’s vision problem was caught early. What I learned was 1 in 20 preschool children and 1 in 4 school age children have a vision problem. I didn’t know this and most of my friends didn’t either. I also learned that up until the age of eight, the brain is rapidly developing. If vision problems are caught early, vision can often improve.

That is where Prevent Blindness Wisconsin comes in. The organization helps vision screen thousands of children. I volunteer in a number of ways. I present to groups to raise awareness and to recruit vision screeners. I contribute and help raise funds for the organization, and I vision screen.

What have you learned from volunteering?

I’ve learned a lot more work needs to be done to address this issue in our nation. Many parents I talk with are not aware that early childhood vision health should be on their radar. Vision health laws and services for children vary state to state. A number of states, including Wisconsin, do not have uniform vision screening and testing guidelines, so it is very important that parents stay informed.

What do you do at screenings?

It involves two tests, a wall chart test (with shapes instead of letters for kids who cannot read) and a stereopsis test (used to help detect if the two eyes are working together). If a child fails the vision screening, he or she is referred to a doctor. It is important parents know a screening does not replace a comprehensive vision exam by an eye doctor.

Do you think having a daughter who needed glasses early has helped you in doing the volunteering?

Absolutely—I take vision screening very seriously since I saw how vision issues affected my daughter. I want to make sure children are screened properly and get comprehensive vision exams. The earlier a child’s vision issue is caught, the better.

What is your favorite part about volunteering for Prevent Blindness Wisconsin?

My favorite part is vision screening children. It motivates me to keep working on Peeps Eyewear and give back to organizations like Prevent Blindness Wisconsin. There are so many rewards, especially coming back to a preschool and seeing one of the children we screened the year before happily wearing glasses.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Just that I want to thank Little Four Eyes for supporting families and children with glasses. With Peeps Eyewear, I hope to encourage children who wear glasses to imagine they can be anything they want to be. I hope they will identify with less-commercial characters who wear glasses that spark imaginative play, not define it. Every child is unique. It’s time for young children to celebrate wearing their glasses!

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