Giving the Gift of Sight

Vision development is a vital aspect of early childhood brain development. Neuro-typical vision development is a key to cognitive, social and emotional development and – left untreated – vision problems can lead to a range of both academic and social problems.  The responsibility of identifying vision impairment, though, is laid primarily upon the parents who must familiarize themselves with the developmental milestones of a child's vision development. Unfortunately, eye healthcare is often skipped or can be overlooked when compared to other areas of child health like nutrition or bone development. This is even more evident when a family may not have the financial means to ensure healthy eye care or schedule regular optometrist appointments. Additionally, glasses, contact lenses, or other corrective-vision instruments can be considerably expensive.

Consequently, children in low-income families can be especially at risk of the developmental delays associated with vision impairments. Essentially, when vision problems are evident and are unaddressed, children are more likely to experience challenges in both academic and social settings. However, just because a parent does not have the financial means to provide healthcare does not mean the child will inevitably experience problems. There are organizations throughout Memphis and the United States that are specifically designed to aid at-risk children. In Tennessee, for example, CoverKids provides free healthcare services (including vision care!) for qualifying children under the age of 18 years old. Additionally, there are numerous other organizations or programs that may provide free eye appointments, free eyeglasses, or other various avenues pertaining to eye health care.

Local Organizations

Southern College of Optometry

Memphis is home to one of the best optometrist colleges in the United States: the Southern College of Optometry (SCO). Each year, SCO performs vision screenings to more than 10,000 school children, as well as thousands more that are enrolled in the Tennessee Head Start programs. Additionally, SCO performs community outreach programs throughout Memphis health programs, school career days, and community fairs. To contact the SCO community outreach program coordinator, call Dr. Zakiya Nicks at 901-722-3374 or visit their website here.

Colonial Vision Center

Since 1937, the Colonial Vision Center has provided vision screenings and comprehensive school programs to blind or visually impaired children. Over 40,000 students enrolled in Memphis City and Private schools have received benefits from this organization. Students may go through a vision screening from 8:30 to 11:30 Monday through Friday at their offices located on Sea Isle road. Colonial Vision Center can be contacted at 901-416-8960.

Lions Clubs International

The Lions Club International is a volunteer service organization. The Lions Club holds meetings on a monthly basis in local communities across the world. A Lions Club community can sponsor certain individuals or families. When a Lions Club member sponsors someone, they are able to provide corrective eyewear or obtain eye healthcare for the sponsored individuals. To find a list of the various Lions Clubs meetings across Memphis, click here. In the text box, type in “Memphis, TN” and click search. The website will produce results of local area meetings of Lions Clubs across Memphis.

National Organizations

Sight for Students

Sight for Students is a national charity that provides free vision exams and glasses to more than 50,000 uninsured children each year. This organization functions through community partners located throughout the United States. To find the nearest Sight for Students affiliate, please visit here and click on the “Find a Partner” link.

Vision USA

Vision USA, run by the American Optometric Association (AOA), is a program that provides basic eye health and vision care services free of charge to uninsured, low-income families. Families may apply to receive vision care through their website. After applying, a volunteer optometrist will be contacted and will provide a comprehensive eye exam at no charge. For more information, visit here or call 1-800-766-4466.


InfantSEE is a public health program designed specifically to ensure early detection of eye conditions in babies. Member optometrists provide a comprehensive eye and vision assessment for infants within the first year of life regardless of a family’s income or access to insurance coverage. Visit their website here or call 1-888-396-3937.

New Eyes for the Needy

Since its founding, in 1932, New Eyes for the Needy has helped more than 7,000,000 people in the United States and around the world. Last year alone, New Eyes for the Needy purchased new prescription glasses for 4,362 people in the United States and shipped over 200,000 eyeglasses around the world. Parents can apply for vouchers at the website and, if approved, New Eyes for the Needy will coordinate and pay a local optometrist purchase new eye glasses for approved individuals. Please visit here to apply for an eyeglass voucher.