UWA freshman keeping service in sight

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Contributed Report

LIVINSGSTON, Ala.-One group of University of West Alabama freshman is seeing firsthand what service learning is all about. Thanks to a partnership with Impact Alabama’s FocusFirst initiative, these freshmen are reaching out to Black Belt communities to ensure that 2-5-year-olds receive proper vision screenings.

UWA 101, a course required for all freshmen during their first semester on campus, integrates service projects into the curriculum. Instructor Mitzi Gates’ section underwent training from FocusFirst staff members Oct. 12 at UWA before heading out to Head Starts and other early childhood development centers in Sumter, Greene and Tuscaloosa counties.

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“This is such a great opportunity for our students to serve,” said Gates, who also heads UWA’s Upward Bound program. “It is so neat to see the students interacting with the kids and truly helping those who may not have been able to receive a proper eye screening without FocusFirst and the university participants.”

The UWA team will visit eight to ten sites in November, conducting vision screenings using state-of-the-art photo-screening technology. They will then assist in obtaining the appropriate treatment and follow-up in a timely manner. It is estimated that only 21 percent of preschool children receive proper vision screenings, according to the FocusFirst Web site. With the help of UWA freshmen, many more children in West Alabama will obtain proper eye testing when early identification and treatment of many conditions can prevent irreversible vision loss.

The mission of FocusFirst is to provide a cost-effective direct response to the vision problems of underprivileged children in Alabama living in urban and rural poverty.

FocusFirst strives to ensure that all children within several targeted rural counties and urban communities begin their education with the best vision medically possible. The long-term goal of this initiative, founded by Birmingham attorney Stephen Black, is to operate a statewide campus-based network of undergraduate and graduate students trained to identify and screen children in communities of need throughout Alabama in order to enhance the educational development of children.

Between November 2004 and May 2005, over 200 trained volunteers representing ten institutions of higher education screened over 4,400 children in 24 counties in Alabama for eye diseases and disorders.

Tests showed that over 600 of the children screened need some sort of medical care for vision problems.

All of those children are now receiving appropriate and timely follow-up care, including a three-year-old girl from Anniston, who underwent surgery this summer at UAB to correct cataracts.

Founded in 1835, the University of West Alabama is one of the oldest universities in Alabama. UWA serves the west central Alabama area and beyond through educational opportunity, academic research and public outreach. For more information about UWA’s involvement with FocusFirst, contact Mitzi Gates at 205-652-3757 or mgates@uwa.edu.

UWA FocusFirst schedule:

November 2

Alberta Tuscaloosa County Head Start

November 3

UWA Campus School AND Tuscaloosa McDonald/Hughes Head Start

November 8

Tuscaloosa Christian Community Children’s Learning Center (and one

additional site not yet scheduled)

November 9

Greene County Head Start

November 17

Our final site visits…not yet scheduled