By Juliana Conde, CHEMPI Pre-School Vision Screener (serving the Central, Bay, and parts of the Northwest and West Central Districts)
When I started working with the Elks in April I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was nervous, but excited about starting with the Major Project. I met everyone at the home office in Fresno, and found that everyone was warm, welcoming, and excited to be there. I stayed at the Fresno office for a week, training and learning everything I needed to know about being a preschool vision screener. I learned a lot and took in as much as I could. I left Fresno feeling ready to take on the job.
After I returned home, I was out in the field with my team leader Gina. She showed me what it was like screening at the sites. I got to see how she worked with the children and sites that we serve. I saw the strong relationships and trust the schools had in her. Before I knew it, she was having me practice with the children. I was instantly in love with my job.
I have worked with children my whole life. From helping to raise my niece and nephews, to tutoring at school, to being a preschool teacher at Kindercare – I love working with children. They are amazing. They have so much love, curiosity, and fun. I spent my time at Kindercare teaching children between the ages of 6 weeks to 12 years old. For five years, I helped to change the lives of children by teaching them the fundamentals. While I loved my time at Kindercare, it still wasn’t the right fit for me. I heard about the Elks hiring from my boss at Kindercare. She was looking for services and received an e-mail telling her they were looking for a new vision screener.
I didn’t even know you could work for the Elks. I knew they were a group aiming to make the communities around them better. I could relate to that. I was a member of the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls. A Masonic based sorority aiming to teach young ladies important life lessons and skills such as the value of giving to others, how to be a leader, self-confidence, event planning and follow through, and love of others. In my time at Rainbow, I helped serve several dinners at the Pittsburg Elks Lodge. They were always a lot of fun.
I started to research the Elks and the Major Project. I looked at what they were all about. I knew that this would be the right place for me. I could work with children while still helping my community as a whole. I could make a difference – which is something that I have always aimed to do. I could change the lives of others and open a whole new world for them. People don’t think that eye checks are important for kids, not like doctor appointments or the dentist. Somehow, eye health gets lost. My sister struggled her first year of Kindergarten and no one could figure out why until she got her eyes checked. It turned out that she was practically blind. A vision screening could have helped her to find out sooner, and she might not have fallen behind in Kindergarten. After getting glasses and some tutoring she caught up and is now fine. This experience in my life gives me a real connection to the value of what I do. The sooner we catch the eye problem the sooner children can get help or even have their problem corrected. I couldn’t wait to join this wonderful organization.
Now, two and a half months later, I have been out screening on my own, scheduling the schools that used to have our services, and finding new schools to offer our services to. I have been to schools all over the Bay Area, seen more than 500 children, and have referred more than 30. I have talked to parents of these children and helped them to understand my findings and found resources for them. It has been interesting, a little confusing, but I love it all.
I can’t wait to get to know more people involved with the Major Project and the Elks. This has been a fun, rewarding experience and I can’t wait to see where this journey with the Elks takes me.