By Libby Smith

DENVER (CBS4) – NFL players are encouraged to play a positive role in their communities, but few are doing as much as Broncos linebacker Von Miller. In 2012, Miller created Von’s Vision to provide eye exams and eyewear to Denver-area children.

(credit: Von’s Vision)

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“There are 72,000 in Colorado, and this is kids under the age of 18 that have a vision need that’s not being served,” said Dr. Michael Pharris, the Director of Optometry for Hero Practice Services and Adventure Vision.

Pharris recommends that children get their eyes checked as early as age one. Right now, about 30-percent of children under the age of six don’t have access to eye care.

“There are consequences. If your visual system is not set up to do as well as even average, it can leave you behind in many ways,” Pharris told CBS4.

(credit: CBS)

Von’s Vision has effectively reached underserved communities. Through partnerships with community organizations like Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver and Colorado UpLift, Von’s Vision holds eye exam events. Optometrists come to the children, test their eye sight and vision systems, and then order any corrective eye wear they might need. Now, that care is being extended through a partnership with Hero Practice Services.

Von’s Locker (credit Hero Practice Services)

“We have a Von’s Locker Program, where the children can come into our practices and continue the care that they’ve received through Von’s Vision in our practices,” said Joshua Gwinn, Chief Executive Officer of Hero Practice Services.

Children and teens can choose from special frames and their records are kept on file, so when glasses break or get lost they can get replacements.

Jonathan Sykes (credit CBS)

Jonathan Sykes is among the children that Von’s Vision has helped.

“My left eye was just so blurry that you couldn’t focus on anything,” he explained.

His vision was that way for as long as he can remember. But when he did eye exams and he told them he couldn’t see the “E” at the top of the eye chart, they didn’t believe him.

“My mom would ask them to retest me because she knew something was wrong, but they thought I was just playing…or just playing with my friends, but in reality I couldn’t really see,” Sykes told CBS4.

“They sincerely thought he was just goofing off,” confirmed Vickie Sykes, Jonathan’s mom.

(credit CBS)

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He became dependent on his right eye to do the work of both.

“Sometimes if I work on a project or homework, I’ll have to take a break because my eyes will be tired,” he said.

He finally got some relief when he was 12-years-old. Sykes is a member of Colorado UpLift, that’s a mentorship organization that teaches character and life skills.

“We’re really big in social work, and just helping our community, and building better people,” Sykes said.

Colorado UpLift partnered with Von’s Vision for a vision testing event.

“The value for us with organizations like Von’s Vision, it allows us to hook up with some organizations who provide care and opportunities that we ourselves don’t do,” said Victor Nellum, Site Operations Manager in the East/Southeast Areas for Colorado UpLift.

Jonathan Sykes with Von Miller (credit Jonathan Sykes)

Sykes got tested, and received a new pair of corrective glasses from Von Miller himself.

“He was really nice,” Sykes said.

Miller even signed a jersey for him, which Sykes has proudly displayed in a shadow box. But most importantly, Sykes could see better for the first time.

“It was kind of a shock to see how much better I could see for the first time,” he said.

“The difference that I noticed is that he didn’t have to stay up so late at night, because the glasses gave him far more accuracy in what he was doing,” Vickie Sykes told CBS4.

As happens with children and glasses, Sykes lost his glasses at the beginning of the pandemic. He’s hoping to access the continuum of care provided by Adventure Vision to get them replaced.

“It’s a little blurry. I’m doing my best,” Sykes said of his vision now.

This experience helped him understand just how great his best could be.

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“I’m grateful to Von, himself, and to Von’s Vision because that changed the dynamic of who my child could be and it certainly made his possibilities limitless,” Vickie Sykes said.

Libby Smith