Jillia Edris Bird, OD

St. John’s, Antigua

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “Dr. Bird’s commitment and passion for blindness prevention have resulted in increased awareness and action on glaucoma among countries in the Caribbean Region.”

As the optometrist to the Data Collection Centre of the 1990s Barbados Eye Study— the largest population study on glaucoma and related eye disorders in black people’s eyes—Jillia Edris Bird, OD had first hand experience with the irreversible blindness associated with Open Angle Glaucoma. “My mother, Dr. Edris Bird, was visually impaired from late-diagnosed glaucoma, but at age 84 heads the Antigua/Barbuda Glaucoma Support Group. She is my main inspiration. I fueled my passion about her glaucoma into a better place,” Bird said.

Bird founded the support group in 2007 which successfully lobbied the Government of Antigua to recognize glaucoma as the public health problem predominant in the Caribbean population. In addition to her duties as president of the World Glaucoma Patient Association, she serves on the Medical Advisory Board of the New York-based Glaucoma Foundation. In April of 2013, she was honored with the International Optometrist Award presented by the World Council of Optometry.

A graduate of State University of New York’s College of Optometry, Bird has run a successful private practice on the island of Antigua for the past 23 years and this Fall she will come full circle when the College honors her with the Alumnus of the Year Award.

SHE SAYS… “Each of us holds the potential to singlehandedly raise the world’s awareness of avoidable blindness and reduce the unacceptable statistics. We then need to redouble our efforts to weave an impenetrable web of glaucoma awareness.”

Sandra Blanchette

Village Family Eye Care
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “Sandra continues to learn and share and has been a great mentor. She gives to her profession and continues to give in every way.”

Sandra Blanchette has been in the optical industry for 25 years, and spent six of them honing her store management skills, during which she worked on meeting customers’ needs while supervising and mentoring staff. Recently, she’s been pursuing her passion for contact-lens fitting work.

“For the past four years, I have gone to the Global Specialty Lens conference in Las Vegas. I have been working with keratoconus fittings, and fittings for dry-eye and eye disease fittings. I have also been working with patients with corneal transplants and corneal grafts,” she said. She has also had students shadowing her contact lens fitting work. “I have also been doing a lot with cosmetic contact lens work.”

In addition to teaching CL fittings for many years, she is currently vice president of the Manitoba Chapter of the Opticians Association of Canada, a group with which she has worked for many years. She is also on the board of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. During her optical career, she has worked with the Ophthalmic Dispensers of Manitoba as a board member, as well as serving as an exam moderator for the National Accreditation Committee of Opticians.

SHE SAYS… “I absolutely love what I do and when I am with students, or I am mentoring someone, or they shadow me at work, I hope my positive attitude about the profession shows.”

Sandra S. Block, OD, M Ed, FAAO, FCOVD

Illinois College of Optometry
Chicago, Illinois

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “Dr. Block is a champion in promoting access to eyecare for persons who are vulnerable due to poverty, disability, gender or age. She has a strong social commitment to the role of optometrists and to promoting access to health care.”

Sandy Block, OD has served ICO since she graduated in the class of ’81. Since then, her role and prominence in the optometric profession has continually increased, and so too, has her passion. “My personal philosophy is improving access to vulnerable populations. Being an optometrist gives you an opportunity to help people. It’s a great profession,” she said.

Block is an active member of the World Council of Optometry public health committee and a global clinical advisor for the Special Olympics-Lions Club International Opening Eyes program. She is also a member of the National Center of Children’s Vision, an institution headquartered at Prevent Blindness America serving preschool aged children who have limited access to vision care.

Block serves in pediatrics at ICO’s Illinois Eye Institute (IEI), a clinic which, in addition to its comprehensive eyecare and research developments, offers charitable services to people in need throughout the Chicago area and beyond. She is chiefly involved in IEI’s Chicago Public Schools program, which offers free eyecare to children.

Her primary goal throughout, she said, is to address vision as a core health issue for young people and to eliminate preventable blindness.

SHE SAYS… “If I can convince somebody that something is important and they grow in their own right, to me that is a success.”

Dorothy L. Hitchmoth, OD

Department of Veterans Affairs
White River Junction, Vermont

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “Dr. Hitchmoth is involved in every aspect of the profession and is a leader and mentor to students, residents, colleagues and others.”

Eye disease among her family members gave Dorothy Hitchmoth, OD, early motivation to work in optical. In the industry for 20 years, she specializes in geriatric and pediatric eyecare, and is a self-professed “retina chick.” She also runs Hitchmoth Eye Care Associates in Hanover, N.H., and is “involved in everything,” she said. Her work with the AOA has led to changes in public policy and in educational and residency programs at state and national levels.

Hitchmoth is a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry and the Optometric Retina Society, and is a past president of the New Hampshire Optometric Association. She is also on the faculty of four optometry colleges.

Treating patients with compassion and respect without being rushed is a cornerstone of her practice, and she believes in providing the latest treatment medical and therapeutic options available.

“Some of the challenges for all of us in health care apply to optometry too—managing resources in a resource-constrained system like the VA, in my private practice, in an environment of reduced reimbursement,” she said. “I have learned to become more efficient at problem solving and improving processes at the VA.”

SHE SAYS… “I don’t think it matters if it is men or women, but we need good people to come into the profession. It’s very important to work together on public policy and research that affects patients.”

Laura Dorris

Manager of Business Development and Human Resources
Vision West
San Diego, California

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “Laura is always coaching and counseling employees. She is an example of a positive, super productive citizen of the Vision West culture.”

Laura Dorris gained exposure to the medical field early on when her brother suffered a traumatic brain injury. “I wanted to help care for people and make a difference,” she said. After college she worked for an MD/OD practice and enjoyed caring for patients. “Adding the retail/fashion/image side was a real plus.”

Dorris left the optical industry for about six years, and worked for a large telecommunications company. She missed the optical industry, and brought back with her experience in business and event management. At Vision West, she oversees peer-to-peer events, corporate events, and programs and education resources for its members, working closely with vendor partners to help independent ECPs succeed.

“Success is about building relationships. Work with compassion and integrity and treat people the way you would like to be treated. The eyecare industry is changing and the solutions and support our members need are changing. It will take extra work to remain competitive and be responsive to the needs of ECPs and their staff,” she said.

Dorris recently joined the Optical Women’s Association and is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management.

SHE SAYS… “Networking is essential. Women are challenged to have a great career and balance family needs. We have a great opportunity to mentor each other. Women can help each other and learn from those that model this well.”

Teri Fittz

Hoya Vision Care
Lewisville, Texas

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “She ensures that everyone she works with, from Hoya’s field sales force to guest educators and the team at Cleinman Performance Partners, maximizes the business opportunity for as many independent ECPs as possible.”

Teri Fittz is responsible for seeking new business opportunities for Hoya Vision Care as well as nurturing incremental growth from established relationships. She brings together independent practice owners with financial, equipment and practice development resources to ensure all find common ground and grow their respective brands. Working with Cleinman Performance Partners, for example, she helps deliver high energy, high quality practice development education and inspiration to practices across the country. To date, the program has visited 40 cities and over 6,000 eyecare practitioners and staff have participated.

Before joining Hoya three years ago, Fittz developed her business building expertise as a sales and marketing executive of a licensed consumer products company, working inside strategic alliances with Disney, Marvel, Crayola and others to expand the brand and build new sales.

“All this experience combined maintains a common thread…it’s all about what the consumer wants and needs,” she said. “Once you focus on the consumer, you will then know the key to success in business. So, for our industry, it’s all about the patient and the patient experience that can only be provided in independent practices.”

SHE SAYS… “To quote Stephen Covey [author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People] ‘Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.’”

Linda Fitzgerald

Classic Optical Laboratories
Youngstown, Ohio

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “Linda sets a successful example of great leadership and helps to develop and support newly licensed Ohio opticians in the profession.”

Linda Fitzgerald started wearing glasses in the second grade, and when she was 14, Shirley Hoover, an optician, sold her two pairs of eyeglasses and contacts at a time when glasses were deemed more a necessity than a fashion statement. “She ignited a passion in me for this industry and 30 years later, I couldn’t be happier with my decision.”

Later, she was mentored by Dawn Friedkin, Classic Optical’s COO, who took her in as an optician and “transitioned me into a business woman. She helped me grow to not only meet, but exceed any expectation I ever had.”

After being a regional territory manager for Classic Optical, she is now a national optometric ambassador, serving large-volume contracts within Ohio, and working as a liaison to newly awarded state contracts. She is also a dual licensed optician (ABO and NCLE), an Honored Fellow of the OAA, and she serves on the Board as a Trustee at Large for the Opticians Association of Ohio. She is also a member of the Optical Women’s Association, the National Association of Professional Women, and an Ambassador for the Youngstown Regional Chamber.

SHE SAYS… “Women are at the forefront of the marketplace and continue to show our dedication for success. We can see a future for ourselves that our mothers couldn’t. My advice for success is simple…and complicated. Educate yourself! And do it early.”

Tracy Gantner

Vision-Ease Lens
Lombard, Illinois

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “She is committed to helping in any way she can to improve accesibility to improved vision.”

Tracy Gantner started out as a lens tinter, but almost immediately, couldn’t stand the fumes. Her boss at Twin City Optical said, “Wait a little bit, we might have something else for you.” A week later she was in frame sales, and was soon covering a five-state territory. That was 25 years ago. She has spent 15 years at Vision-Ease, and previously worked for Carl Zeiss Optical/SOLA.

Gantner enjoys the people and the relationships she’s made in optical. Also, “I am selling lenses, which is more technical and requires education—something beyond size and color. It is ever changing, and you have to keep up with those changes, which entices me,” she said.

Gantner foresees more clients needing eye health as managed vision care and new health care policies come in 2014. “I look forward to getting more vision care to kids and to less-fortunate individuals. I want to give my best and give back,” she said. To that end, Gantner has also worked with VOSH on a mission to Sri Lanka, and has worked here with the Salvation Army, and hopes to work more with Prevent Blindness America.

SHE SAYS… “While lens manufacturing and design is dominated by men, more women are coming into the industry as CMOs and CEOs. Demonstrating a high level of integrity and meeting the ever changing needs of the market is good advice for anyone coming into the industry.”

Kathy Hoover

QSpex Technologies
Alpharetta, Georgia

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “She keeps the morale high for all 130-plus employees of the company through consistent communication, employee events and meetings, and personal guidance when required.”

Hoover grew up in an optical family and has been in the optical industry on and off her entire life. Her father, Kai Su, PhD, is the inventor of over 100 vision care patents such as the QSpex Premium Lens System, Softcolors contact lenses, and Opti-Clean lens cleaner. Apart from a couple of non-optically related positions, Hoover has worked as a lab technician for Ciba Vision and as head of finance and personnel for Technology Resource International.

In her present role as HR director for QSpex Technologies, which markets an in-office system that allows eyecare professionals to produce ophthalmic lenses in about 35 minutes, Hoover handles all aspects of employee relations and human resources. “My role is to make sure the employees are happy and informed, which in turn hopefully equates to more effective productivity for the company,” she said. “I see myself as the liaison between upper management and the rest of the workforce which don’t always seem to have the same ideas and/or goals.”

Hoover said that getting people to think creatively and trust their instincts is her greatest challenge. “Too many people these days aren’t willing to think of new ways to do things and when or if they finally do, they end up second guessing themselves.”

Hoover believes that women have the unique ability to combine a practical approach to fashion with business and will continue to invent new ways of using this skill to affect change in the optical industry in the coming years. She offers this advice for women who are pursuing an optical career: “Always trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to voice your opinion. You can do anything you put your mind to.”

SHE SAYS… “Always trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to voice your opinion. You can do anything you put your mind to.”

Jennifer Jackson

Regional Sales Manager, Northern California/Pacific Northwest
Viva International Group
Somerville, New Jersey

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “She’s an amazing team leader who has earned the respect of her co-workers, clients and direct sales team.”

For Jennifer Jackson, having great mentors helped her become a great mentor. “I have had numerous mentors in my career,” she said. “In my current role, director Kelly O’Grady and our VP of sales Jan Cory have been fantastic mentors. Celina Huizar-Fouts of Viva, Margie Gagliard of Luxottica Retail, and Sherry Migley at VSP/Altair Eyewear have all been strong women role models in my optical career.”

Jackson has been in her optical career for about 10 years. “I started with Cole, shortly before the Luxottica merger, and stayed until 2007. Then I joined the Altair Division of VSP as an inside sales regional manager. I’ve had the opportunity to work in several different areas of the industry and I think that helps me see the business from a 360 point of view.”

But her true passion was field management and in late 2010 she joined Viva as the regional sales manager for Northern California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. She recently expanded her territory to include Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and Montana and now oversees a team of 16 sales reps.

“It’s important to be able to model the behaviors I am looking for from our sales leaders to help them achieve their goals, because when they win, I win. I want my team to look forward to me coming to their market and knowing I am there to help them in any way they need me.”

SHE SAYS… “I am a firm believer in helping team members improve their performance and showing them the path they can take to get there.”

Martha Mijares

Marshall B. Ketchum University
(formerly SCCO)
Fullerton, California

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “Martha has trained hundreds of students in the retail aspect of optical services, including service, styles and background knowledge of vendors and business ownership.”

Originally, Martha Mijares planned on being a fashion merchandiser, and was hired by an optical office. “When I saw the opportunity and the need, I felt motivated to grow the fashion aspect and integrated it completely into the medical aspect,” she said. Before joining Marshall B. Ketchum University seven years ago, she has spent more than 25 years in the industry, holding administrative and managerial positions at Kaiser Permanente, LensCrafters, Pearle Express and Cole Vision. Currently, she is involved with Transitions’ Pro-Forum Group, the Paraoptometric Association and the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry.

She is also responsible for educating more than 200 students annually in ophthalmic optics, running the operations of the EyeCare Center and supervising and training six opticians. She also organizes promotions, marketing, trunk shows and health fairs.

One of the biggest challenges Mijares faces is promoting changes in the eyewear and lens technology to a large student body and faculty. “We make recommendations and educate patients on premium products. When the school year ends, we start the process all over again.”

SHE SAYS… “I have a vision first, then I work with my team to form a plan to reach our goal. Teamwork is one of my strengths. I educate, motivate and reward the team, consistently. This helps us get the best results in all our endeavors.”

Susan Moniello

Marchon Eyewear
Melville, New York

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “She leads by example and utilizes encouraging and positive managing methods.”

Susan Moniello had a strong female mentor early on in her career which has helped shape the way she views success and mentorship. “In my early career, one of my first mentors was a vice president of brand and marketing who taught me to be confident and push myself to be the best that I could be,” she said. “This was a time when there weren’t many women in senior management and she was instrumental in proving that success is genderless.”

“I jumped into the optical field by chance,” Moniello continued. “I was fortunate to meet my boss, Mark Ginsberg, who was new to Marchon as well and looking to fill a new position. Coming from a soft goods accessory background, I wasn’t sure that this would be the right fit. But I was so impressed by Mark that I knew I wanted to work for him. After one month, I knew I’d found my niche and I’ve never looked back.”

She’s now been in the optical industry for more than 10 years and is responsible for all development from inception to finished product for Marchon. “I am fortunate to work for an amazing company and with a fabulous group of people. Claudio Gottardi is a great leader and visionary. Mark Ginsberg is always supportive and challenges me in new ways that keep every day interesting and I have a core group of colleagues who inspire me and are collaborative partners that make coming to work a pleasure.”

SHE SAYS… “Strive to be a good partner and to be attentive and listen to what is happening in the market.”

Yvonne H. Pelkey

J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College
Richmond, Virginia

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “She sets a high standard for quality and constantly looks for opportunities to bring the latest in learning experiences to the program.”

Yvonne Pelkey believes that every patient should get the best possible care, regardless of where they are treated, and would like to see more talent sharing among the different types of ECPs. “If we truly want to bring awareness of the value we provide, we need to put our differences aside and become unified,” she noted.

Pelkey feels her contribution to the industry is “a desire to take something good and help make it great. I see so much opportunity in our education programs, giving back and in building relationships and contributing wherever I can.”

Pelkey has been in opticianry since 1986, and worked for several optical stores and ECPs before joining J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in 2006. She has been program director since 2011. She has helped students get involved in humanitarian missions with I Care International, and has partnered with a local OD to help low-income and uninsured patients.

Pelkey has also worked with the National Federation of Opticianry Schools, the Optician Association of Virginia and the Opticians Association of America. She is also the Commissioner of the Commission on Opticianry Accreditation for the next three years.

SHE SAYS… “Don’t be afraid to speak your mind…you’re not the minority. I have spent many of my years in this profession in somewhat of a ‘bubble’ and I’ve learned to come out.”

Karen Storey

DeKalb Optometric
DeKalb, Illinois

Karen Storey passed away on June 8, 2013 following a brief illness.

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “She always had a ‘can do’ attitude, and was a talented teacher who was loving, caring and very intelligent.”

A Cleveland, Ohio native, Storey entered the optical field 25 years ago when she took a job at local wholesale lab Rooney Optical. She then moved to Essilor of America, where she worked as a senior sales consultant and sales trainer. Storey was promoted to manager of strategic accounts and earned the Presidents Club award in 1999.

Recruited by Hoya Vision Care, she served as a lens product specialist and then as a territory sales manager. Colleagues at both Essilor and Hoya recall her as being kind and supportive, and someone who freely shared her extensive optical knowledge with those she mentored.

A certified optician, Storey was a Fellow of the National Academy of Opticianry. Most recently, she worked as an optician, office manager and staff trainer at DeKalb Optometric, a DeKalb, Ill. practice owned by her husband, Stephen Storey, OD.

Storey was a volunteer for I Care International and was active on the organization’s board. She participated in missions to Mexico and other foreign countries, often working around the clock for days at a time. She would do pre-testing, optical fitting and dispensing, and Dr. Storey would perform eye exams. As part of her volunteer efforts, she taught honor students at DeKalb area high schools how to clean, neutralize and package glasses for upcoming missions. “It takes about 8,000 pairs of glasses to go on one of these missions,” said Dr. Storey. “Karen spent many hours sorting through glasses and categorizing them.”

Before embarking on an optical career, Karen Storey received a BA at Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio, where she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. She earned an MBA at Thunderbird School of International Business in Glendale, Ariz.