Helping Kids Celebrate Eyewear

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By Catherine Wolinski: Assistant Editor

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.—On Aug. 5, retailers, eye doctors and parents celebrated the first annual Great Glasses Play Day (GGPD) ( greatglassesplayday.com), a multi-location event intended to celebrate children who wear corrective eyewear and help educate the public about issues surrounding children’s eye health. Headquartered here, the celebration gained an international following; five cities participated in the U.S., and two abroad. More than a dozen eyecare practices and optical retailers took part.

The idea for the celebration was a collaborative effort between Kristin Ellsworth, owner of Peeps Eyewear in Madison, Wis., and Ann Zawistoski, founder of Little Four Eyes , a “mommy blog” created for parents of young children who wear glasses. The two women wanted to alleviate the unhappiness their daughters and other children in similar situations feel about wearing glasses. They conceived of an event that would gather more families like their own to celebrate glasses wearing and boost the self-esteem of kids who have vision issues.

 
“We began reaching out to families a few months ahead of time, and were very surprised by the strong response we had,” Ellsworth told VM. “In a short period of time, we had interest from families all over the world.” Social media helped spread the word and drive the outreach, too, driven by the GGPD leaders as well as other blogs and groups like Amblyopia Kids and The Pumpkin & The Princess, as covered in VM’s CLICK newsletter last month.

Meet-ups featured different activities for children and their families to enjoy. The Minneapolis meet-up took place at a park equipped with a picnic shelter and brand new playground. Stations were set up with activities such as dress-up, face painting and a craft table where children could make their own glasses cases. A number of books were supplied by the local library, Barney Saltzberg, author of the recently published Arlo Needs Glasses, and Ellsworth, who penned Princesses Wear Glasses.

All events, which averaged about 30 participants in each location, focused on kids aged one to nine who wear glasses, contact lenses or eye patches. Each event had little to no budget and relied entirely on volunteers. Support has continued throughout the month, with participants taking part in large and small ways.

“The success can be measured in a number of ways, but for us it was seeing the children, including our daughters, feel like special guests at a party,” Ellsworth said.

Among the participants were the Glasses Menagerie, a Minneapolis-based pediatric office which showed support by supplying business cards and opportunities for patient care.

“We told Kristin she could send anybody to our office for fittings,” said Julie Bart, the store’s manager. “And we had posters up telling everyone about it.” Regarding her thoughts on Great Glasses Play Day, she stated, “It was good for the first year, and it’s something that hopefully will grow bigger and bigger.”

 
Massengale Eye Care in Moore, Okla. celebrated prior to the event by setting up an information table with books and treats for kids to enjoy. Practice manager of Massengale Eye Care Tobias Markey shared his sentiments on the event. “[We enjoyed] participating in GGPD,” he said. “I think our patients sincerely appreciated our festivities.”

Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD, FAAO from Bright Eyes Tampa told VM that although he was regrettably out of town during the event, he found other ways to support the cause, spreading the word online via social networks, an interview on his blog and optometry forums like ODs on Facebook and Optcomlist.

“I really wanted to get a GGPD event organized in Tampa, because I love the idea,” Warford said. “Proactive children’s vision is very important and I see GGPD as a great way to raise awareness and have fun.”

Other advocates of the cause included optical organizations such as Prevent Blindness Wisconsin, The Children’s Eye Foundation and the American Optometric Association (AOA).

“We received incredible support from the optical community,” Ellsworth said. “Their help was instrumental.”

No matter where the locale, or how large or small the participation, a feeling of triumph was shared throughout. The celebration is expected to re-occur in 2013, with both parents who were present and those who were not able to take part expressing interest in participating next year. “Every person we have talked to who attended an event has said they’re interested in doing it again,” Ellsworth said. “We’ve learned a lot about how to get the word out and we think we will reach a much wider audience next year. Vision health is so important, and the Great Glasses Play Day turned out to be a great way to bring so many people, organizations and businesses together.”