Seeing an opportunity: Advanced Center for Eyecare welcomes Lost Hills students

On her way to the Advanced Center for Eyecare, Lost Hills Elementary sixth-grader Blanca Leon shared her optimism about the trip with Principal Veronica Sanchez-Gregory.

The 11-year-old girl recalled how she was looking for a metal object in her backyard her mother had asked her to find. After spending time scouring the grass, her mom saw her struggling, walked over and found it without too much trouble.

“I was already looking for nearly an hour, and I already got on my knees and I was searching for it,” Blanca said. “I didn’t see it for a while until she picked it up.”

A vision test at her school last year confirmed what some had mentioned to her in the past. Blanca needed glasses.

The problem is, affordable eye care isn’t easy to find, either, in the census-designated community of about 1,700 where she lives and goes to school.

But on Thursday, a partnership among Chevron, the Advanced Center for Eyecare and Lost Hills Union School District made an appointment, prescription and new pair of glasses possible for Blanca and 89 of her schoolmates.

“Just in the handful of exams that I’ve already done this morning, we’ve seen probably 80 (percent) to 85 percent of children in need of glasses, many of whom have either never worn glasses or have had broken glasses and been without proper eye correction prior to today’s exam,” said Dr. Jacqueline Albert, an optometrist at ACE. “So it is really rewarding, getting to see the opportunity for children to see better, which ultimately leads to better learning.”

The energy giant donated $25,000 for an all-day eye care clinic that basically made the center available for students from a district that has 98.6 percent of its 288 transitional kindergarten to eighth-grade students considered socioeconomically disadvantaged, according to the state’s school dashboard.

“Lost Hills Union School District is an important partner of Chevron’s, so in talking with them about their needs, this is one that was identified as a high need by the principal,” said Megan Lopez, a public affairs representative for Chevron who was at Thursday’s clinic. “​​​​We are also partners with (Advanced Center for Eyecare), so we kind of brought our partners together to figure out how we can provide these services to these students.”

For the students, the morning seemed to be a mix of excitement and a little bit of nervousness as they sat down in the chair. The latter part seemed to ease as they talked to their respective optometrists and focused on answering questions about what they could see on their eye charts.

“Well, first, they just think it’s one big field trip,” Sanchez-Gregory said, while praising Chevron for its support of the school district in projects like this and others.

“This year, we were fortunate enough to partner with them to do this vision project to actually serve one-third, I would say, of our students to receive glasses,” she added. “We did a whole vision check with our school nurse. And so every student that failed their test is actually here today. And so we’re making sure that … they’re going to be able to see clearly.”

Advanced Center for Eyecare CEO Justin Cave said community support like Thursday’s event was one of the reasons why the center was opened 11 and a half years ago.

Even in a more populated area like metro Bakersfield, there aren’t a lot of affordable eye care options, and patients can wait anywhere from four to six months for an eye exam, he said.

And in the past, more than 40 percent of the population didn’t have access to health insurance, he said, which was a major motivation in forming an organization to help underserved and underinsured individuals.

“So fast forward to today, 11 years later,” he said, and thanks to primarily MediCal-based insurance plans, “we’ve served tens of thousands of individuals and provided them with eye care and eye disease management.”

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Kern Citizens for Energy