After her glasses broke, Sheliah Harris-Spencer was going without them, playing basketball and doing classwork with very poor vision.
The Kentwood Freshman Campus student-athlete, who is nearsighted, was unable to read the big E on the eye chart, and she struggled through social studies class, unable to see the projected notes.
Thanks to Dr. Troy LeBaron, who is providing free eye exams and prescription glasses for students in need, Sheliah is now wearing cute black frames that complement her pretty face. “I have all As and Bs. I had a C because I couldn’t see, and we had to do a lot of writing … I wore my glasses, so I got that C up,” she said.
And Sheliah, who plans to play on the varsity basketball team her sophomore year, sees the hoop clearly. “I score more points,” she said.
Filling a Basic Need
Sheliah and dozens of other East Kentwood High School and Kentwood middle school students are sporting new frames thanks to LeBaron, owner of Professional Eyecare of West Michigan.
The optometrist has an open-door policy when it comes to Kentwood students. Since the beginning of the school year, he has performed more than 30 free eye exams and has given out more than 20 pairs of glasses to students at the freshman campus alone.
“We do whatever needs to be done for the community. Period. That’s my goal,” said LeBaron, who buys frames and lenses in bulk at a discounted rate and makes most of the glasses with technology at his practice. “We can provide as much as we need to.”
Sometimes it’s an ongoing process. Because Sheliah is so active in sports, she’s broken two pairs since her first visit with LeBaron. His recent solution: athletic safety goggles.
“There are some kids you have to just go the extra mile for,” LeBaron said. He also checks if students have vision insurance they aren’t aware of, and sometimes they do, he said.
Students get to choose from a variety of styles. “They have a nice selection so they can not only see good, but feel good and look good,” he said.
After realizing many students needed glasses but couldn’t afford them, Kyle Ringwald, Kent School Services Network (KSSN) school coordinator at the Freshman Campus, began looking for a business willing to donate. LeBaron, who opened his practice in 2009, said he wanted to help as soon as he was contacted.
“We didn’t have anywhere to go to get affordable eyewear for children. Dr. LeBaron’s obviously provided a great resource for the kids,” Ringwald said.
Ringwald works with students who face an obstacle that is holding them back in the classroom, including the need for vision and dental services.
It’s not unusual for Ringwald and KSSN school coordinators from other Kentwood schools to bring four or five students at a time for exams with LeBaron. He has the technology and often the materials on-site for students to walk out with their prescription glasses on the same day as their exam.
“Kyle e-mailed me, and I jumped on the opportunity to help out,” LeBaron said. “I look at it like this: They are our future. Not everybody has the ability to come in and get taken care of, and somebody needs to step up and do their part for the community.”
Plus, it feels good, he said. “Especially when they come in and say they are getting As and Bs,” he said, smiling at Sheliah.