Partner Spotlight: Walking Shield

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In many American Indian communities, access to vision care is very limited due to affordability, awareness, and physical access to care. That’s why for over 30 years, OneSight has partnered with Walking Shield to bring eye exams and glasses to children and adults to native communities in Arizona, California, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin through over 40 charitable vision clinics.

The partnership holds a special value for OneSight Program Manager Dawn Yager, who has enjoyed “working with the different tribes and learning about their culture” and believes “OneSight’s work with Walking Shield over the years has opened doors for us to help those that need us the most.”

One such patient is Robert, from the Blackfeet Nation in Browning, Montana. He came to a clinic wearing his niece’s glasses, which were only 1/3 of the actual prescription he needed. When he got his new ones, he said “These glasses are going to give me a fresh start and help me get a good job.”

OneSight’s Melissa Standridge has been working with Walking Shield for 22 years. In her experience leading vision clinics serving tribal members, she recalls how much she has learned about the culture and the people of all ages. Melissa says, “I remember a young man and his sister at the clinic both getting an eye exam and their glasses at the same time. He was so thankful to get his glasses so quickly because he was about to leave to start college and had been without glasses for some time. They took photos together with their new glasses and were so happy to be able to see clearly again! That is why the partnership with Walking Shield is so important, so we can help support both the young and old to improve the quality of life for those on the reservation.” Now Melissa leads strategy and implementation of OneSight programs in North America supporting children and families in need on reservations around the U.S and looks forward to making a continued impact in partnership with Walking Shield.

Each native community―and the children, adults, and elders who live there―has unique needs that Walking Shield works to address even beyond vision care. The team, led by Executive Director Dr. John Castillo, has been adjusting to the changing circumstances caused by COVID-19 to continue to provide needed care and development for those they serve.

Walking Shield is currently fulfilling its commitment to American Indian families by offering several programs.

Their Healthcare Support Program provides no-cost medical and dental health services to tribal members in partnership with the U.S. military branches, foundations and tribal governments.

They also provide scholarships, mentoring, and individualized assistance to help American Indian students prepare for and succeed in college through their American Indian College Access Program. One of the students they recently served, Jessica, says “Walking Shield has honestly been such a blessing to me with my educational goals. I have received plenty of assistance from the, especially during this pandemic. They provided the motivation I needed to move forward with my education and they were able to supply the tools that were necessary to keep me on track while learning remotely. I really look forward to helping my Native Community and really making a difference for our people.”

Through the Workforce Development & Training Program, Walking Shield provides American Indian job seekers residing in Orange County access to employment training, support services and the education necessary to succeed in today’s competitive job market.

Walking Shield’s Humanitarian Aid & Holiday Gift Program distributes school supplies, clothing, blankets, and other essential items to schools and families on America’s underserved reservations and off-reservation communities. They also collaborate with American Indian Toys for Tots Program to distribute toys to children on American Indian reservations.

Through the Housing Relocation Program, Walking Shield serves to coordinate the relocation of military surplus houses to American Indian reservations with severe housing shortages. And the Infrastructure Support Program serves to coordinate the construction of roads, wells, bridges and other vital structures on American Indian reservations.

Hear more about Walking Shield’s work and the impact of eye care services on tribal members directly from Dr. Castillo.