Ohio: The Comeback Kid

Minerva Maldonado, 2019 Students To Leadership Grant Recipient

OHIO: The Comeback Kid

(How Our State Association Faced Adversity... and Won)

In June of 1969, my hometown—Cleveland, Ohio—was the site of an event that signified a low point for the city. The Cuyahoga River caught fire. The cause was a buildup of pollution and oil discharge from local industry. The city used the tragic event to spark a change that resulted in the river's now being among the cleanest in the nation; what's more, the river front is now a vast social and entertainment center.

In 2017, the Opticians Association of Ohio experienced their own “burning river” moment when the Ohio Optical Dispensers Board (Ohio’s opticianry licensing board) was voted out of existence and replaced by the Ohio Vision Professionals Board. Now, instead of a board composed solely of opticians, we had a licensing board composed of four optometrists and just two opticians.

That same month, our executive director, Mark Glasper, who had fought tirelessly to save our board, accepted an offer with an association in another state. Within a month, we had no licensing board, no executive director—and no idea of what the future held.

Thanks to the guidance and perseverance of OAO president, Linda Fitzgerald; secretary-treasurer, Shirley Earley; immediate past president, Pat Kuhl; and a supporting OAO board of trustees, we were able to take a deep breath, analyze the situation and come up with a game plan.

Without an executive director—and having very little funds to pay for one—duties were divided among many people, all volunteers, with the bulk of it ending in the laps of Linda and Shirley. While Linda delegated, Shirley directed and in many cases did the work herself: learning how to navigate the nuances of the association management software, the legislative issues, the legal and banking issues, dealing with a new board, planning education events and handling the day to day running of the association. 

The OAO trustees offered tremendous support, all while holding down their regular jobs. It was trial by fire. But like a sword forged by fire, it made us a stronger association, preparing us for the future.

It is important to note that from the very beginning, we vowed not to compromise the quality of the events and speakers were were able to provide to our membership. We did have to get creative and making use of some non-traditional sites at times, such as hospital conference rooms; but we did not—and will not—waver on the type of education and member services we offer.

This series of events taught us and continues to teach us many lessons, with one of the most important being how to be humble enough to ask for help.

With hat in hand, we approached the Opticians Association of America, the American Board of Opticianry and other organizations for aid. Support came in the form of money, legal counsel and, perhaps most importantly, advice. We also had to approach some of the venues where we had scheduled CEU events and ask if they would consider discounting their products and services… and many did.

Not only was the salvaging of the OAO a team effort within our organization, it was a monumental collaborative effort on the part of the entire optical industry.

What's more, the OAO was able to form alliances and bridge gaps with organizations and groups we otherwise may not have been able to. Most notably of these is the optometry field. It's a long and wonderful tale resulting, among other things, in the fact that Bob Alexander, OAO Vice President, and Senior Manager of Education Resources for Hoya Vision Care will now be conducting a roundtable discussion at the 2020 State Leadership Conference in February. This breakout session is entitled “Into the Future of Opticianry In Ohio With the Unlikeliest of Partners: Ohio Optometrists”. We invite you to take part in this must-see breakout that should shed light on opportunities state associations may be missing with regard to whom we see as allies and adversaries.

While the OAO is not quite out of the woods yet, we continue to push forward, constantly looking for ways to turn our “burning river” moment into motivation to be better than ever before. In truth, we must. Because for the Opticians Association of Ohio, the future is now.

~ John Bruening, President, Ohio Opticians Association