It’s 9:30 on a Friday morning, and about 30 third graders from Tonti Elementary School, in Chicago’s Gage Park neighborhood, have just arrived to the Illinois Eye Institute’s school-based clinic at Princeton Elementary. Clad in their uniform mustard-yellow polo shirts, the students have taken a five-mile bus ride to the clinic to receive eye exams.
Seven student clinicians and three staff doctors care for the eight- and nine-year olds at a variety of stations set up in a second-floor classroom. About six kids gather around a young woman as she gives their classmate color vision and depth perception tests.
“What shapes do you see?” she asks the little boy. He identifies the x and the o on the page. “Good job!”
The woman stands out from the other adults in the room, as she’s not wearing a white or gray coat over her sleeveless chambray button-down. That’s because she’s not a doctor or ICO student–Rachel Lander is a sophomore at the University of Chicago. A member of the Delta Gamma women’s fraternity chapter at U of C, she and her sisters volunteer at Princeton once a week. It’s one of the service activities the chapter partakes in to fulfill Delta Gamma’s philanthropic focus, Service for Sight.
Service for Sight
Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, Delta Gamma is one of the largest Panhellenic women’s organizations in the U.S. and Canada, with over 200,000 members worldwide and 147 chapters. Delta Gamma’s philanthropic mission and foundation go by the same name, Service for Sight, and the foundation was the first established by a sorority in the U.S. Historically the foundation has granted funds toward vision-focused organizations, genetic research, low-vision adaptive devices and more.
Delta Gamma has been recognized by the American Foundation for the Blind and Prevent Blindness America for its work on behalf of the visually impaired. In 2012, the organization partnered with the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration to launch the Service for Sight: Joining Forces Program, aimed at improving eye injury clinical care and vision research for men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Delta Gammas must fulfill a certain number of Service for Sight volunteer hours, averaging about 150,000 annually. “We’re on the quarter system, and each member of our chapter is required to do four service hours for every quarter we’re in school,” says Sydney Reitz, a University of Chicago senior. “So that means everyone does 12 service hours each school year. And we have a 120-person chapter, so that amounts to 1,440 hours. So we need quite a few opportunities for service, especially because all of our service opportunities have to be directly benefitting the blind and the visually impaired.”
As vice president of foundation, Reitz is responsible for coordinating all philanthropic programming for the chapter. She’s organized on-campus Delta Gamma events devoted to collecting used sunglasses, and informing students about the importance of eye protection during the summer.
U of C Delta Gammas also work with local non-profits Second Sense and the Chicago Lighthouse, as well as the Blind Service Association. Their activity with these organizations runs the gamut from administering surveys to fundraising to serving as guides for visually impaired people at special events. Reitz’s predecessor identified the Princeton opportunity in 2012 and reached out to clinic director Sandra Block, OD ’81.
“These young women come in with the willingness to do anything they can here at Princeton,” says Dr. Block. “They’re engaged, always pleasant and work hard. They help with entrance testing, they help move kids around, they work with the opticians and help call patients when glasses are ready.”
When Lander was rushing, all of the sororities presented information about their philanthropic pursuits; the Delta Gammas spoke about working at Princeton and showed pictures in a slideshow. Lander appreciated the clinic’s proximity to U of C–about two miles away, and accessible by public transportation–from both a convenience standpoint as well as having the opportunity to serve in her immediate community.
Delta Gammas at ICO
Service for Sight was a major draw for Kerry John, OD ’00, as she was considering sororities as an undergraduate at Indiana University. She found the alignment of her professional interests with Delta Gamma’s philanthropic mission a serendipitous coincidence. “One of the main reasons I joined was that I knew I wanted to go into optometry,” she says, adding that the chapter’s high GPA and prime location on campus were secondary lures.
“I think sororities get a bad rap for the most part,” says Dr. John, who today works as a staff optometrist at Skowron Eye Care in Elmhurst, Ill. “A lot of people don’t realize that they actually have a foundation–there’s something philanthropic that they’re working towards. And as much fun as it is, there’s a lot of work that goes into it, too.”
Luciana Coscione Dixon, OD ’06, was a Delta Gamma at the University of Michigan. Today she owns L’Optique Optometry, a full-service clinic in Rochester Hills, Mich., and is also a staff optometrist at the Detroit Veterans Hospital. Among the DG volunteer activities she participated in was reading books on tape for visually impaired students, and taking visually impaired children horseback riding. Additionally, she and her sisters engaged in a variety of fundraising efforts to benefit organizations dedicated to vision research and service for the visually impaired.
When she first began her studies at Michigan, Dr. Coscione was uncertain of a career path; she actually started out in the engineering school. She wouldn’t entirely attribute her decision to pursue optometry to her Delta Gamma experience, “but it definitely helped.” Her DG volunteer activities also instilled in her the desire to continue to give back: She was a member of SVOSH while at ICO and went on a mission trip to Honduras.
Lori Latowski Grover, OD ’90, now dean at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University, was a Delta Gamma at Albion College in Albion, Mich. The organization shares a rich history with the liberal arts college–the campus is the site of the first Delta Gamma house established by a chapter.
Dr. Grover has kept up with Delta Gamma since graduating in 1985, and she’s encouraged by the expansion of the organization’s service and philanthropic focus. “Back then, our philanthropy was called ‘Aid for the Blind,’” she says. “It’s nice that they have a broader approach. Less than three percent of the population is what we would consider blind.”
Partnerships such as that between Delta Gamma and the IEI are mutually beneficial, says Dr. Grover. “If we as a profession can help to increase awareness about the need for comprehensive eye care with outside organizations, then it’s a win-win. Because then they’ll be able to identify and morph their philanthropic focus, and it will just help us.”
A Fulfilling Vision
Neither Lander nor Reitz anticipate pursuing a career in vision care–Lander will probably declare a major in math and is still considering postgraduate possibilities, and Reitz intends to pursue a PhD in neuroscience. But their volunteer efforts at Princeton have been an unexpectedly soul-satisfying byproduct of Greek life.
“I absolutely love the clinic,” Reitz says. “Everyone loves it. I think it’s one of the coolest resources available. It’s really cool to have a hands-on opportunity like that.”