Sarah Warnock, Clarion Ledger Published 4:00 a.m. CT Jan. 12, 2018 | Updated 8:24 a.m. CT Jan. 12, 2018

(Photo: Sarah Warnock/Clarion Ledger)

Six-year-old Kaylee Buck has extra pep in her step this morning as she strides into the fellowship hall at Galloway United Methodist Church in Jackson.

And when she sits down to begin training on her new Onyx Electronic Video Magnifier (EVM), for the first time ever, an infectious smile begins to take its place on her glowing face.

Kaylee has optic nerve hypoplasia — underdevelopment of the optic nerve(s) causing a range of visual impairments — and is legally blind. The EVM she is receiving today will make certain she can see everything from homework to the fingernails she might one day want to paint.

The device looks and works like an overhead projector, allowing objects near or far to be magnified up to 131 times and then projected onto a monitor.

Sight Savers America provides EVMs and eye care programs, including eye exams, glasses, some medications and some surgeries, for children in 12 states. The program is funded in part by agencies like the state department of education in Alabama and Mississippi.

Several state lawmakers, like Senate education committee chair Gray Tollison, will visit the event today to learn more about the program.

“Some of the children we find are legally blind or have very, very severe vision impairment. We provide them life- changing vision aids. It allows them to sit at a computer like you would at a 2-foot distance for hours at a time instead of 10 minutes, no eye strain,” says Jeff Haddox, CEO and founder of Sight Savers America.

Haddox founded the organization in 1997 with the goal of ensuring every child in Alabama is able to achieve their best possible vision.

Kaylee’s father, Robert Buck, sits proudly by his daughter’s side as she goes through the training. “I think it’s a wonderful machine for her. She likes to stay active, read and watch television and explore. I believe she will get a lot of benefits out of it. I actually feel like I need one myself,” Buck says, and he, Kaylee and her mother, Keylor Wilson, break out in laughter.

Pearl High School junior Prestan Mosley is picking up his second Sight Savers America EVM today with his mom, Leigh Ann Mosley, along for the experience.

“I was really excited about it. I’d never had one before and it just grew into me,” Prestan says of the first EVM he received in 4th grade. Like Kaylee, Prestan has optic nerve hypoplasia and he is legally blind.

Prestan’s mother says, “I noticed with the first one — at school his grades went up tremendously because they gave him his work and he was able to do it without anyone having to sit over him, to complete it in the course of the time they allowed.

“And he doesn’t feel like he has to ask all of his friends, ‘Can you read this to me?’ When he first got it, he wanted to show it to all of his friends.”

When asked what she likes most about the Onyx EVM so far, Kaylee replies, “I like the colors and to zoom.”

She further stated the first thing she would do when she returned home today is read “That’s Not My Monkey … ” from the series of board books by Fiona Watts and Rachel Wells. It’s full of patches, textures and pictures as bright as the light that radiates from the little girl who can explore her world more fully now — with all that extra pep in her step.

Contact Sarah Warnock at 601-961-7192 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter.