Giving kids the gift of sight
MICHIGAN CITY — For the fifth consecutive year, Sailing 4 Sight provided free eye exams and eyeglasses to children at Dunes Optical and Franciscan Physicians Network on Saturday.
“I’ve been in the optical business all my life, and so it’s been nice to be able to give back to the communities,” said Greg Dallas, founder and director of the public nonprofit organization. “I think the statistic is about 80 percent of children under the age of 12 years old have never been to an eye doctor. It’s a huge number because if kids can’t see, they can’t learn.”
Linda Bechinski, who oversees the nurses at Michigan City Area Schools, was present at the event.
“I remember a kid one time – the teacher was saying he wasn’t doing well in school. He moved him up to the front (of the classroom), but he still couldn’t see the board. So, I told him about Sailing 4 Sight, he came, and eventually, he graduated with honors. So, it was kind of nice.”
Bechinski said she visits every school in Michigan City, public or private, with sign-up sheets for the annual initiative.
Event coordinator Bill Wittlief said the first year they hosted the event, which is free to children from working poor families, 21 families signed up and 15 attended. This year, 49 families signed up, and all but one showed.
Horizon Bank donated $2,500 toward this year’s event to help accommodate the growing number of kids.
“It’s important to mention that because they were a big help for us to be able to continue this,” Dallas said.
Sailing 4 Sight is a 501(c)(3) organization born from a mission outreach idea Dallas and Wittlief came up with in their Bible study group 11 years ago.
Initially, Dallas provided free eye exams to kids in the Indianapolis area, where they live. However, he decided to create a charitable foundation and move his volunteer effort to Michigan City, where he docks his boat and spends his weekends.
He is responsible for organizing the doctors and volunteers, and Wittlief schedules the children for appointments.
This year, they also provided free eye exams at an event in Las Vegas, where nearly 100 kids took advantage of their services.