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by Abigail Van Buren

Children Are New Focus of Free Eye Care Program

DEAR ABBY: For the last nine years, thousands of your readers have written and called us at the American Optometric Association to apply for free eye care available to low-income working people through VISION USA.

Although this service helps people of all ages, VISION USA 2000 will mark the start of the program's emphasis on aiding children. This focus aligns with VISION USA's commitment to "America's Promise -- The Alliance for Youth," a program headed by retired Gen. Colin Powell and dedicated to helping "at risk" youth.

Each year, more than 7,000 optometrists donate their services to VISION USA. Since the program's beginning, free eye exams have been provided to more than a quarter of a million children and adults. Among those helped was an 8-year-old boy diagnosed with a detached retina. The VISION USA optometrist arranged for eye surgery at no cost, which saved the boy's vision.

An 11-year-old girl who was extremely nearsighted had broken her glasses and her parents couldn't afford new ones. After a new pair was donated, she reported that she could now see the chalkboard even from the back of the classroom. One young girl was thought to have a learning disability, but after an eye exam, it was discovered that she was farsighted and had a high degree of astigmatism. With glasses, she is now able to see, and her schoolwork has improved considerably.

We hope you will alert your readers to the VISION USA 2000 program. Application forms are available now from VISION USA, 243 N. Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63141, or on the AOA Web site (www.aoanet.org) in the "Meet the AOA" section (click on the VISION USA logo). Many libraries now offer free Internet access for persons without a home computer. Completed forms must be postmarked by Jan. 20, 2000.

Abby, we appreciate your support of VISION USA. You are helping many hardworking, deserving people and their children to see better and to have healthy eyes. -- HARVEY P. HANLEN, O.D., PRESIDENT, AMERICAN OPTOMETRIC ASSOCIATION

DEAR DR. HANLEN: I'm pleased to help spread the word.

Readers, from Jan. 3 to Jan. 31, 2000, low-income working people can be screened for eligibility for VISION USA by calling (800) 766-4466. Phone lines will be open weekdays from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. (CST). Interested persons are encouraged to apply early, in writing, because of the heavy demand for the phone lines in January.

To qualify for the free eye care, persons must: have a job or live in a household where there is one working member; have no health insurance that covers eye examinations; have an income below an established level based on household size; and have had no eye exam within the last two years. Eligibility requirements may vary in some states.

DEAR ABBY: I have recently become aware of my impressionable personality. Growing up as a child I used to help my father roll joints and eventually started smoking pot. During my college years, my roommate was a purse-snatcher and I started snatching purses with him. Just recently, I started a job with a man who cross-dresses. The high heels are ruining my feet and I don't look very good in miniskirts. Please help me. -- SUGGESTIBLE IN LAS VEGAS

DEAR SUGGESTIBLE: You not only have an impressionable personality, you also have a bizarre sense of humor. I suspect you also know someone who writes crank letters to advice columnists.

Your "problem" will become an asset as soon as you start surrounding yourself with people who are involved in constructive activities such as volunteer work. Please don't wait.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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