Welcome to #CLPSpotlights, our monthly series highlighting individuals and organizations that make a difference in their community. This month, we interviewed Mark Scaramuzzi, the Pittsburgh Project Manager of Vision to Learn. This organization provides valuable and greatly needed free eye exams and glasses to children and underserved communities.
Q. How has your work evolved during the pandemic to meet the community’s needs?
A. We estimate 30,000 kids across Greater Pittsburgh need glasses and don’t have them. We’re seeing a greater need for our work since the pandemic and a rise in the number of students needing glasses across the country after many students spent months and months learning virtually. Locally, we continue to work with great community partners like CLP to make sure that we’re able to serve communities where we still aren’t able to return to the schools.
Q. What is your favorite part of what you do?
A. Seeing a kid’s face light up when they receive their glasses and can see clearly for the first time.
Q. How did you come to work for your organization?
A. My career started in education, teaching college and high school English. I know firsthand the impact that a pair of glasses can make not just on that student, but on all of the students around them. Realizing all the needs my students had outside of the classroom, I moved into the non-profit world, working with a range of programs to bring resources to kids and schools. When the opportunity to join VTL came up, it seemed like such a natural fit to make sure, at least in this one small slice of the pie, every kid in the Pittsburgh area has the vision care they need to succeed.
Q. What do you wish the public knew about your organization?
A. If glasses VTL provides get lost or broke, we’ll replace them for free! We know kids are rough on glasses, and we want to make sure we’re keeping them in glasses.
Q. Tell us your favorite story about the Library!
A. Some of my earliest memories are of going to the Irwin library with my mom for the great programs they offered. I remember being in awe of all the different books and wanted to look at each and every one. We’d always go home with a big stack of new books to read.
Q. What role does CLP have in helping your organization?
A. CLP has been an amazing partner. It’s so important to be able to reach families at a location they’re familiar with and know how to reach. And there is such an important connection between reading and vision; it’s a natural partnership and we’ve loved working with the CLP branches!
Q. Who’s your favorite author or artist at the moment?
A. I’ve always loved reading writers with Pittsburgh ties. Terrance Hayes, who taught at CMU and Pitt, has long been one of my favorite poets. And recently I’ve been reading a lot of historian David McCullough, who was born in Pittsburgh.
Q. If you could change one thing about Pittsburgh, what would it be?
A. I wouldn’t change a thing. I love Pittsburgh – from our nearly impossible to navigate streets, to the character of the different neighborhoods, to walking through the Strip on a Saturday morning. My dad grew up in the shadow of the Edgar Thomson Works in Braddock, and I often joke with people that I have the rustbelt in my veins.
Q. What was an especially fulfilling moment for you in your work?
A. Sometimes certain students just stick with you. We were dispensing glasses at one school, and when one particular student received his glasses, everyone from the nurse to his teachers to the custodian were coming over to congratulate him. It turned out he had failed his vision screening year after year for the entire time he’d been in the school. The school had tried and tried to get him glasses, but it had never happened. His teacher had learned about VTL when we visited her daughter’s school and put the wheels in motion to bring us to her district with this specific student in mind. It was incredible to see a whole school community rally behind one student.
Q. What is a favorite local business or organization of yours?
A. Nothing beats some hotcakes at Pamela’s Diner on a Saturday morning.