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Guest Post: Giving 2020 a New Vision
Written by Julio Garcia, the Health & Disabilities Administrator for PathStone Corporation, our delegate agency serving families in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He previously held the role of Health & Disabilities Coordinator for five years. Julio is currently taking Human Anatomy and Microbiology classes while working to become a registered nurse.
I am fortunate enough to write that this season we have seen little in the way of health concerns. The children that migrated to our centers from Florida, Georgia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Guatemala, and other areas did so with the blessing of being in good health. However, there was one incident this season that impacted me deeply and I wish to share it with you all.
I arrived at our Franklin County Migrant Head Start Center, located in Pennsylvania, one evening in August to attend their Annual Health Fair. During these events, families can enjoy a healthy snack and have their children’s and their own health evaluated by qualified members of our community. I was there among other staff members providing translation between the parents and the vision screeners. The event was well underway when a small family of three entered the room. As mom began to fill out the paperwork to have her son’s vision screened, I turned to his father and asked if he would also like to have his vision screened that day. He looked at me with quite a bit of surprise and asked if that would be okay. He had presumed that health services were only meant for the children in attendance. I assured him it would be fine and motioned him over to have his vision checked.
A few moments later his results were in. He had failed. The proctor of the screening was taken back for a moment and asked that the man remain seated so he could be screened again. A second screening and a second failure followed. I recall vividly explaining to the young man what his results meant and with a light smile he said, “I knew I was going to fail. Sometimes I have a hard time seeing the tree branches when I’m working.” I instructed him that after his son was screened, we could set him up with an eye doctor in the area as well. He chuckled in agreement.
His son approached the screener and sat patiently in the chair as the lights of the machine flashed in the darkened room. The screener sat back and decided to repeat the screening. A second round of flashes and a second pause at the end confirmed the results. The little boy of roughly three years of age had also failed his screening. I turned to his father and as I began making my way towards him, I could sense that his mood had changed. The smile that he had displayed when hearing his own test results, confirming what he knew to be true about his own vision was gone. I pulled up a chair next the parents and began to explain to them what their son’s test results meant. His son had hyperopia, meaning he could see objects that were far away but not up close.
His father slowly took the paper with the results from my hand and skimmed over it. He was fully aware that he could not read English but that didn’t prevent him from trying to make sense of the letters he was seeing. After a moment, and with eyes not looking at mine, he quietly asked if his son’s vision would worsen like his. Fear had crept into his voice, enough so that his wife looked towards him with an uncertainty of her own. Although he didn’t look up from the paper, I could sense his thoughts, and the lifetime of hardships that he has endured due to his poor vision. Here in front of me was a man, younger than I, far from home, who was putting on a brave face for his family despite the fear that must have gripped hold of him.
When I spoke next his face changed slightly and his expression softened. I said, “We can help.” Three words had given him the hope he so clearly needed and the relief that swept across his face was evident. I instructed him to keep a copy of his son’s results, as we now had a copy of our own, and said our Health Coordinator would contact a doctor in the area for both to be seen.
I spoke with him and his wife for a few moments afterwards as his son helped himself to several of the free stickers on a nearby table. He pinned one on his father’s pant leg, ending our conversation. His mother quickly thanked me, picked up her son, and carried him off down the hallway to get him a snack before they proceeded on to the next table. Meanwhile, his father remained for just a little while longer before rising from his chair and extending his hand towards mine. As I grasped it in my own, I could tell it contained hope, respect, and friendship all in one simple gesture before turning to reunite with his son.
In the coming weeks when I would visit our Franklin County Migrant Head Start Center, I would walk into the preschool classroom and scan the room for a familiar face. For the face of a young boy that now had a new pair of glasses on his nose as he hurried about the classroom. On these days, I took care to wear my own glasses instead of my preferred contacts. Although I spoke with the young boy several times during my trips to the Head Start center, I could tell that he could scarcely remember who I was, or how it was that he could recognize me. That was okay though, I would say to myself as I would make my way to the next classroom. I would remember for both of us.
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