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Children can see brighter future, thanks to Lionesses

September 14, 2007|By MARLO BARNHART

In 1994, May Crabb had a chance encounter with a 6-year-old girl at a Washington County school that had a profound effect on the Hagerstown Lioness Club member.

"This child bounced in wearing new glasses," Crabb said. "She told me she could see now, thanks to the vision screening she'd had a year earlier."

When Crabb checked the records, she discovered that she had screened the little girl herself the year before.

"That made it all worthwhile," Crabb said of the club's vision screening program, which has been testing all public school students in Washington County since 1993.

It was that year that budget cuts forced the Washington County Health Department to give up its vision screening services to the schools, Crabb said.

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When the Hagerstown Lioness Club learned of the cutbacks, the members mobilized, bought secondhand screening equipment and underwent training.

Washington County Public Schools turned over the screening program to the club, which annually conducts the testing at no cost to the school system - it is all volunteer.

A club member and optometrist, Dr. Rose Wood, provided the training, Crabb said. For the next 13 years, club members and other volunteers have been bringing vision screening to 34 schools in Washington County during the first two months of each school year.

Then last year, one of the machines broke and the club discovered the parts to repair it were no longer available, Crabb said.

Crabb said she ran into Sen. Don Munson, R-Washington, and told him of the club's plight. The result was the introducting of three new vision screening machines, owned by the school system but used by the club members.

Crabb said Munson told her that the Hagerstown Lionesses have saved the county about $100,000 a year by doing all the screenings on a volunteer basis.

"We test for visual acuity, excess farsightedness, muscle balance and color blindness," Crabb said. Each year, children in kindergarten, first, third, fifth and eighth grades are screened.

The new machines operate on the same principle as the old ones so only a minimum of additional training was needed. The new ones are lighter and easier to operate.

"The kids like the screenings - it's not like a doctor's office and they know they're not going to get a shot," Crabb said.

In addition to the machine screenings, the volunteers also test with eye occluders, where one eye is covered while the other is tested on a standard eye chart.

"Some ladies in the club make eye occluders from a fish-shaped pattern so the children have something to take home from the screenings," Crabb said.

When a problem is spotted, the volunteers report to the school nurse so the parents can be notified as quickly as possible, Crabb said.

Traditionally four club members co-chair the screening program each year. This year Crabb is sharing those duties with Doris Fisher, Betty Morgan and Joan Bachtell.

May and her husband, Gordon, are the parents of four children and also have seven grandchildren. A stay-at-home mom for most of her married life, she said she did have a few jobs here and there.

In addition to a feeling of satisfaction doing the screenings, Crabb said she gets a kick out of the children themselves.

"Once a little boy at Pleasant Valley Elementary School came in and saw us there," Crabb said. "He asked if it was grandparents day because if it was, he had forgotten it."

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