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In 1998, a professor from the University of California School of Optometry, Dr. David Grisham, approached Wilson Riles, former State Superintendent of Schools. Mr. Riles had been known for his concern about ensuring that every student be treated individually—that educators need to recognize and foster each student’s individual path toward learning. Dr. Grisham and one of his students brought new information to Riles, showing how lack of control of eye movements could interfere with reading, and emphasizing that while not all students would have such difficulties, helping those who do can help them achieve their full academic potential.

The small group from UC Berkeley proposed a computerized solution, involving assessment of individual students followed by visual skills training over the internet—a rather radical idea at the time. Riles agreed that the idea was worth pursuing, and he arranged a pilot program with a school district in Central California. The trial was successful: students improved their visual skills as well as their reading, and Gemstone was born.

Why “Gemstone”? The name of the company reflects our view of the people, especially children, with whom we work. Their visual systems are not yet fully formed; they are gems in the rough, and our job is to hone them to their finest – to make gemstones into jewels by careful shaping, smoothing, and clarifying exercises.

When Dr. Maureen Powers, a vision scientist who had led the Vision Research Center at Vanderbilt University for many years and recently relocated to California, joined Gemstone, she realized the potential for research as well as service, and in 2002 the Gemstone Foundation was formed. Its status as a non-profit 501(c)(3) allowed her to apply for grants, and in 2002 the first of an ongoing series of grants and contracts was awarded. Dr. Robert Hoffman, a highly experienced and respected educator, became the Foundation’s Executive Director in 2004. The result of our work has been several publications, with many more in progress. You can view current Gemstone Foundation research projects along with preliminary results here (link).

In 2007, the Board authorized a change in the Foundation’s business model. Until that year, all funding had come from grants, contracts, and donations. In order to expand our service and research abilities, we adopted a social enterprise model. Now, anyone can purchase our products and services. When they do, they are (a) making a tax-deductible contribution and (b) providing support for those who cannot afford to pay for our services on their own and (c) providing support for continued research.