A Sit Down – with Pamela Happ
This post appears as part of a series called Sit Down – candid conversations with real people detailing their journeys and experiences with Vision Therapy.
A Sit Down – with Pamela Happ
For the benefit of our readers, can you explain how you are involved in Developmental Optometry?
I have the distinct pleasure of serving as the Executive Director of the College in Optometrists in Vision Development, or, much easier to remember, COVD. It’s hard to believe I’ve been with COVD for over seven years. It just proves the old saying, time flies when you’re having fun!
With a background in Non-Profit Leadership, what other type projects were you involved in prior to joining COVD?
I’ve been involved in non-profit organizations for most of my career. Prior to joining COVD I was the Director of Executive Management Services for the International Anesthesia Research Society (IARS). I served as Executive Director for three sub-specialty anesthesia societies, the Society for Obstetric Anesthesia and Perinatology (SOAP), the International Society for Anesthetic Pharmacology (ISAP), and the Society for Technology in Anesthesia (STA).
From the outside looking in, the COVD International Office seems to run like a well oiled machine. Your staff is always pleasant, always courteous, always helpful and surely their value cannot be overstated. Can you explain their individual roles?
I am blessed to have such a fantastic staff and thank you for your kind words. They don’t receive enough credit for all the work they do. My gosh, it would take me longer than the time you have available to list all the tasks my staff performs throughout the year. Let me try to be as succinct as possible and I apologize to them in advance for making what they do sound so simple.
Jackie Cencer — Jackie is a Certified Meeting Planner and is our Meetings Coordinator. Her main duties are mostly related to planning, coordinating, and reconciling our annual meeting and other continuing education offerings. In addition, Jackie is responsible for advertising, exhibitor, and sponsorship management, and most recently is helping our Fundraising Committee. She has been with me since day one at COVD.
Penny Melkerson-Kirby is our Membership Coordinator and has been with COVD since December 2006. Penny is usually the smiling voice answering the phone at the International Office (IO). She is the go-to person for anything relating to our members, is responsible for our accounts receivable, and is always willing to go the extra mile to help our members and the public who call with questions. Her biggest recent accomplishment was making sure our new membership database system got up and running successfully. She organizes the registration desk at our annual meeting and in addition to many other responsibilities, works with our State Coordinators and Membership Committee.
The newest member of our team, Julie Ickes-Jefferson, recently celebrated her two-year anniversary with COVD. Julie is our Certification and Administrative Coordinator. Her main duties are coordinating our certification program. She works closely with the International Examination and Certification Board and our Fellow and COVT certification candidates. With normally more than 100 candidates in the certification process at any given time, her hands are pretty full with those duties! In addition, Julie coordinates our Tour de Optometry visits, works with our Academic Services Committee to coordinate the efforts of our school liaisons, and handles many of the accounts payable duties.
I know I’ve left out a lot of tasks each does, but as you can see, they’re all very busy at the IO!
COVD is very fortunate to have someone of your caliber serving as Executive Director and since you’ve joined the organization, many positive changes have occurred. In your opinion, what is the largest contributing factor to those improvements?
Thank you so much for the compliment, Robert. I truly feel honored to be serving such an incredible organization. Simply said, what our members do changes people’s lives and I believe it is their continued dedication and passion for the work they do that is the largest contributing factor to the positive changes we’ve experienced. There are a lot of naysayers trying to negate the effectiveness of developmental optometry and VT, but thanks to our international public awareness efforts more people are learning about the services our members provide.
I think one of the most exciting changes we’ve seen is the increasing awareness of developmental optometry and optometric vision therapy. When I joined COVD, our website and our other public relations efforts promoted developmental optometry and VT as “Optometry’s Best Kept Secret.” That slogan was a factor in my decision to join COVD. Before I began researching COVD and was considering serving as COVD’s ED, I had never heard of vision therapy.
As I began learning more about VT and feeling the passion of those interviewing me for the ED position I became hooked! I wanted the world to know about COVD and the services our members provide. I wanted the world to know about optometric vision therapy and developmental optometry. I didn’t want another child or adult to have to struggle with undiagnosed vision problems just because they didn’t know there is so much more to good vision than seeing 20/20.
As COVD continued to grow and awareness of our organization and the services provided by our members increased, I felt a burning desire to take my ability to serve COVD to the next level. I am a Certified Association Executive (CAE) but felt I needed to learn more. The day after I returned from our 2012 annual meeting in Fort Worth, I began a master of science in management degree program with a concentration in non-profit leadership. My goal is to complete the program next May.
As our board directors and approximate 200 volunteers are dedicated to serving COVD, so am I. Continuing education is not only important for our members, but I feel it is important for me to learn all I can to enable me to better serve COVD. In addition to my duties at COVD, I am also a Board Director for the Greater Cleveland Society of Association Executives (GCSAE) and am active in the Ohio Society of Association Executives (OSAE) and the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). I feel it is important to give back to the societies who have helped me grow and learn how to be a better non-profit leader.
COVD offers a professional membership to doctors and therapists which come with many benefits. For the edification of our readers, can you explain what these are?
Our board certification process offers optometrists and therapists the opportunity to become board certified in vision development and vision therapy. Our website’s “Locate A Doctor” feature offers the public a way to find COVD optometrists. Our website has a members section which provides information and tools on practice management, assistance in working with local media, opportunities to apply for research grants, and much more.
COVD also has a large student and resident membership. In addition to the benefits already listed, our student and resident members can apply for travel grants and awards, find practice opportunities, and arrange practice visits to members’ offices. All members receive discounted registration to our continuing education offerings and can purchase items in the COVD store at a discounted price.
COVD recently launched a fabulous new website of which you must be very proud. What are some of the new features?
Our new website is very robust and our Website Committee worked diligently to assure it was user-friendly and packed with information for the public as well as all health care professionals.
The Locate A Doctor is our most popular feature. It allows the public to find COVD optometrists near them. Searches can be done by zip code, city and state, full address, country, or by doctor’s last name.
The Search Site feature is a quick and easy way to find information on our site and the Vision Conditions feature (on the right side of our homepage and the left navigation section of all other pages) offers a quick guide to vision problems and vision-related topics.
In addition, we have a section devoted to promoting research that has been published regarding acquired brain injury, vision therapy, the Convergence Insufficiency Treatment Trial, as well as White Papers on Vision Therapy and Position Papers.
Providing a board certification program for doctors and therapists has always been such a positive function of COVD. About how many FCOVD’s and COVT’s are there currently?
COVD has close to 4,500 members, which includes 536 COVD Fellows (FCOVDs) and 193 COVTs (Certified Optometric Vision Therapists). We have approximately 20 Fellow candidates and 36 COVT candidates who are eligible to complete the certification process this October at our Annual Meeting in Orlando.
The Annual Meeting is perhaps one of the biggest gatherings in Developmental Optometry. Surely planning for each meeting takes months, if not years. How long before a meeting starts does the preparation begin?
Yes Robert, it takes a LOT of preparation for our annual meetings. We are usually working on two to four meetings at any given time. Our 43rd Annual Meeting is this October in Orlando, Florida.
With that meeting only eight weeks away we’re very busy with processing meeting registrations and helping answer any questions our attendees may have; working with our exhibitors to make sure they’re all set and ready for our meeting; working with our speakers to make sure we have all their handout materials and completing the COPE requirements; and working with the hotel on final meeting space layouts and food, beverage, and AV requirements.
While we’re working on that we’re also preparing for the CE we’ll be offering in conjunction with the SECO 2014 meeting in Atlanta, Georgia next March; we’re working with the COVD Education Committee to prepare for the 44th COVD Annual Meeting in San Diego, California next October; and we’ve just finalized contract negotiations with the Bellagio for the 45th COVD Annual Meeting in Las Vegas in April 14-18, 2015. Our members have discussed with us numerous times the possibility of changing our meeting month and beginning in 2015, the COVD Annual Meeting will be held in the spring. We are excited about this change and know it will open up opportunities for us to offer additional continuing education outside of our annual meeting.
The Annual Meeting also provides an exciting opportunity to win up to $5000 for anyone in attendance. Can you tell us about this?
Oh Robert, we have many opportunities for people to win at our annual meeting and they aren’t just available for meeting attendees! First, I think it’s important for those reading to know that our raffles are all part of our Making Vision Therapy Visible Campaign and the money earned from these raffles all goes to support our public awareness program. It takes a lot of money to spread the news about the efficacy of optometric vision therapy.
These raffles are a great way for folks to give back to COVD and help us with the public relations work we’re doing. We have three raffle drawings during our meeting—the Lucky 300, the 50/50, and our exhibitor raffle. The Lucky 300 raffle top winner will receive $5,000, but we also have a $500 prize, and five $125 prizes. Our 50/50 raffle is just that, 50% of the money raised goes to our public awareness campaign and 50% goes to the lucky prize winner.
Our exhibitors contribute the prizes for our annual exhibitor raffle and one lucky person will win the prize package which is worth thousands of dollars. Again, winners need not be present so I encourage everyone who wants a way to give back to COVD and also have an opportunity to win something to buy some raffle tickets today!
Remember, even if you don’t win, your purchase is considered a donation to COVD. (COVD is exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and eligible to receive tax-deductible donations. Donations are tax deductible subject to any limitations that might otherwise apply.) All donations can be made online, so if you haven’t already purchased your tickets, or made a donation to COVD in a while, please do so today! Donate here!
Aside from your responsibilities during the Annual Meeting, and we know those are numerous, what do you enjoy most about that week?
The quality of education offered at our annual meeting is one of the key features of our meeting for our attendees, but the opportunity to get to see and talk with our members is my favorite part. COVD is like a big family and our annual meeting serves as a sort of family reunion for us all to get together and celebrate all that has been accomplished in the past year. The meeting has such a great energy and I know a lot of that energy is generated by the passion our members have for what it is they do. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?!!
Some closing thoughts – Special thanks to Pam for taking the time out for this interview. COVD is a wonderful organization, made even better by the wonderful ladies who manage the day to day operations. Please join me in thanking Pam, Jackie, Penny and Julie for all they do!