Nearly a dozen New Jersey summer camps and youth facilities are providing free eye exams and free eyeglasses to underprivileged kids who need them thanks to a partnership between Jonas Philanthropies and NJ Vision to Learn.

Jonas Philanthropies' mission is to improve healthcare by investing where it matters most. They strive to protect children's environmental health, preventing and treating low vision and blindness and promoting leadership in nursing and veterans healthcare, according to its website.

NJ Vision to Learn strives to provide free eye exams and free eyeglasses to children in low-income communities.

One of the summer camps participating is Hands In 4 Youth of Camp Vacamas in West Milford. Executive Director Lee Bell said it's a nonprofit dedicated to working with underserved communities to fundraise year-round to offset the cost of camp for working parents. So when this health care component was presented to him, it was something he could not pass up.

Bell said Jonas Philanthropies CEO John Jonas approached him and asked what he thought about having free eye exams and free eyeglasses for children at summer camp.

Every child who comes through camp this summer will go through an eye screening and eye tests. The goal is to put prescription glasses in the hands of every child who needs them before they leave summer camp.

There has been great feedback from many of the kids and their parents. Bell said even some kids who had prescription glasses didn't realize they needed a new prescription. "Oh my, I can see the end of the ball field," one child said after receiving a new pair of eyeglasses.

Others could not believe how well they could see and didn't realize they even needed glasses. Every child should be able to have a gift of sight, Bell said.

"Sight plays into a big factor of education as well as kids who are unable to see, read or comprehend what they're looking at. That can also play into holding children back. So to have this opportunity to service our community with this partnership has just been an amazing opportunity," Bell said.

The program is the first-of-its-kind being rolled out in the New Jersey summer camp community, according to Bell. While Camp Vacamas is the only residential sleepaway camp participating in the free eyeglass program, other youth facilities participating include:

Boys & Girls Club of Newark 

Focus, Newark 

Afterschool Allstars, Newark

Certified Angels, Passaic 

Paterson Recreation, Paterson 

YMCA, Paterson 

YMCA, Orange and East Orange 

Boys and Girls Club of Garfield 

Boys and Girls Club of Jersey City 

Bell said by the end of the summer, about 450 children will have been eye screened and between 70 to 100 pairs of free eyeglasses handed out.

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