February 15, 2013 • contributed by Kelsey Marx, Americorps Vista volunteer at MS Industries For The Blind

As a champion of low-vision initiatives around the state, Miss Mississippi Marie Wicks toured Mississippi Industries for the Blind in Fondren on Thursday to get a better understanding of all the different opportunities provided there for the visually impaired.  When asked how she became involved in low vision awareness, Wicks said, “Personally I am very nearsighted, and upon getting my first pair of glasses in fifth grade, I was finally made aware of the things I couldn’t see before.”  Years later, after realizing the vast potential for others in Mississippi to receive the same kind of vision help she had as a girl, she became involved with the Lions Club, an organization devoted to raising funds and awareness for low-vision causes around the state.

All of Wicks’ early involvement in the eye health field really stuck with her, eventually leading her to become president of the University Lions Club at Ole Miss for two years while pursuing her International Studies and French degrees and Chemistry minor.  Upon becoming a contestant for Miss Mississippi, she was then able to adopt Eyesight To All Regions (eyeS.T.A.R.) as her philanthropic platform, through which she has organized free vision screenings and raised funds for the Lions Club.

“As president of the Lions Club and with eyeS.T.A.R. as my platform, I was able to arrange for the eye screening machines to come to Oxford,” Wicks said. ” Faculty and students from Ole Miss, as well as residents of the community, received this free eye-health service, through which we could then refer them to a doctor if they needed it.”

Wicks has organized several vision screenings on the Gulf Coast, where she is from, for children of all ages.  During her year of service as Miss Mississippi, Wicks is traveling around the state to raise awareness for vision initiatives and to promote her platform along with the national platform of Miss America, the Children’s Miracle Network (she also visited network hospital Blair. E Batson Children’s Hospital while in Fondren today.)

After completing the tour around Mississippi Industries for the Blind, Wicks couldn’t help but feel inspired.  “I never realized the extent of what is available through MIB,” she said.  “There is such a variety of products and [the employees] are so skilled at what they do that there’s no way you could tell that they’re visually impaired.  They’re also very optimistic and gracious.”

Their happiness reminds her, she says, of her favorite quote from the French children’s story, “Le Petit Prince,” or “The Little Prince”:  “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”  It’s her hope that more opportunities like those provided by MIB will be available to others struggling with low-vision.

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