Healthcare professions often attract warm, caring people. Doctors positively affect the lives of many patients a day, making optometry a desirable profession for the kind at heart. (Of course, we think ICO optometrists are the kindest of all!)
Some optometrists take generosity to the next level; they want to give even more to humanity. Many ICO alumni donate money or resources to compassionate causes. Others contribute skill and time. The following three graduates feel so strongly about their passion projects that they regularly volunteer.
Why work for free? This trio is happy to share their stories…
Dominick Maino, OD ’78, MEd
Dominick Maino, OD ’78, MEd, recently retired after over 40 years as an ICO faculty member. While he will be volunteering often in retirement, Dr. Maino’s side projects have already been going strong for decades. He makes time for theatre, community building, and political activism. “It’s never work,” says Dr. Maino. “It gives you an opportunity to say thanks in a very concrete way for everything you’ve received and everything that matters to you.”
One thing that matters to Dr. Maino is family-accessible art. He was ICO’s first Pediatrics and Binocular Vision Resident, and his love for children has not faded since. Dr. Maino sits on the Board of Directors as Secretary for the Filament Theatre in Chicago’s Portage Park. Calling itself “Where families come to play,” Filament Theatre moved into Dr. Maino’s neighborhood about seven years ago. Their very first show, Crossing Six Corners, caught his attention. He says, “I told them right after that performance, ‘When you’re ready to bring non-theatre people onto your board, call me first.’ They were that good.”
Dr. Maino has been volunteering for the Filament for “about six years now, helping them grow and evolve.” He attends all meetings, writes and distributes the minutes, chairs and participates in fundraising events, and is a “conduit of communication.” Says Dr. Maino, “I make sure people have the information they need to do the best job possible.”
The storefront theatre “has grown exponentially.” Today, the Filament collaborates at the national level with organizations like the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. “We went from a small budget to about a couple hundred thousand dollars,” says Dr. Maino.
Filament Theatre incorporates sensory experiences into their shows. Dr. Maino recalls a play about the beach, after which attendees could play on a stage covered in real sand. Another recent project was titled Forts: Build Your Own Adventure. Families created various structures, forts, and tunnels made from cardboard boxes, sheets, and furniture. Then, theatre staff would do the cleanup. Dr. Maino appreciates that the Filament creates kids’ activities that do not involve digital devices. “They are moving, they are thinking, and they are creating.”
Filament Theatre is not the only place in his neighborhood that Dr. Maino values. He is also the Treasurer on the Board of Directors for the Six Corners Association. This organization brings business and community events to Portage Park. Dr. Maino was inspired to volunteer after the economic downturn of 2008. “We had all these empty stores in my neighborhood,” he recalls. “I live in this community, and because of that, I want to see the community thrive.”
When asked to list some of his favorite places in Portage Park, Dr. Maino replies, “How do I choose?” His appreciative list includes a family restaurant named Shilas, Jeff’s Redhots, Community Tavern, Josie’s Frozen Yogurt, Fannie’s Café, and Chicago’s second-ever Culver’s. (Ironically, the city’s first Culver’s was constructed in ICO’s neighborhood of Bronzeville.) Dr. Maino reviews budgets, signs checks, and helps “community-minded” businesses like these. By volunteering with the Six Corners Association, Dr. Maino feels he can positively affect large numbers of people- just like he has in optometry.
When volunteering, Dr. Maino always has optometry in mind. A major reason for his political activism is the legislated nature of the profession. He encourages all ODs to “get to know your state legislators, city politicians, and other public servants… that personal contact will make a major difference.”
Dr. Maino is also an avid photographer, and sometimes donates this talent to optometric conventions and meetings. He often photographs ICO’s AOA/AAO receptions, and is the official photographer for the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD) annual meeting. From “powers of observation” to relationship-building, the skills Dr. Maino exercises through volunteering have benefitted him as a doctor.
Retirement will only give Dr. Maino more ability to nurture his neighborhood and express himself creatively. He hopes that his fellow alumni can become inspired and give of their “time, talent, and treasure” as he has. “Even though you’re extremely busy with your own life,” he says, “perhaps there is that one thing that inspires passion within. Use that passion to benefit others.”
Mallory McLaughlin, OD ’16
Whereas Dr. Maino donates his time across many causes, Mallory McLaughlin, OD ’16, has pointed her energy toward a single organization. She volunteers for the Junior League of Chicago. This national organization focuses on three areas: Health and Wellness, Early Childhood Education, and Human Trafficking. The group is historically significant, having installed the very first women’s bathrooms in downtown Chicago for working ladies. Today, Dr. McLaughlin works on the Junior League’s Connecting Kids to the Arts committee.
“I think it’s really important to give back to the community,” says Dr. McLaughlin. The Junior League of Chicago allows her to meet new people and learn the perspectives of others, while serving at-risk women and children. She has been with the organization for two years. Her committee creates art projects and crafts with children in hospitals. They make sand art, Valentines, Thanksgiving decorations, and more. “It’s a great way to connect with kids and help give them an escape from their daily treatment,” Dr. McLaughlin says. “As we’re working with the kids, the parents get a chance to talk to each other and create support groups and network.” Though the volunteers do not focus on the children’s medical issues, Dr. McLaughlin’s experience as an optometrist makes her uniquely qualified for these moments. Outside of Dr. McLaughlin’s committee, the Junior League also provides Food Pantry services, educational events, self-defense courses, political advocacy, and much more.
For Dr. McLaughlin, volunteering has given her the gift of empathy. The Junior League of Chicago has shown her worlds very different from her own. The group serves locations from rehabilitation centers to the Ronald McDonald House. Dr. McLaughlin’s favorite memory is of two children who became friends after receiving nearly-identical heart transplants. “You really have no idea what they have gone through that has gotten them to where they are.”
Dr. McLaughlin encourages everyone to evaluate where they are investing their free hours. Volunteering makes her feel like she is using her time wisely. “When you have more, or you have a lot of things to be grateful for, I think it’s very important to share that with other people.”
Sue Mirman, OD ’94
Finally, for some ICO alumni, volunteer opportunities have shaped an entire life. Sue Mirman, OD ’94, practiced optometry for less than 5 years before turning her talents toward nonprofits and philanthropy. Volunteering was always a part of her story, however. When she was young, her family worked through The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to build homes for disabled people. “We really didn’t have the money to give at that point,” says Dr. Mirman, “but we did have time… I just made sure to keep that in my life.”
One of Dr. Mirman’s volunteer positions turned into her career. She works in the Jazz Department at Las Vegas Academy of Arts, a public high school with four artistic conservatories- music, visual arts, theatre, and dance. Students, who audition to be admitted, “come from all different backgrounds, culturally and financially.” In addition to her salaried role, Dr. Mirman sits on the Advisory Board for the Friends of LVA nonprofit. The group raises funds for the school to help with both student education and public awareness. Not every child at LVA can afford the trips, festivals, and competitions they participate in. Fundraising assures that equal travel opportunities are given to all. “It really is an amazing place,” says Dr. Mirman. “I’m honored to be here.” Even after they graduate, LVA students keep in touch with Dr. Mirman. “The kids are just awesome,” she says. “You definitely feel that you are making a difference.”
In addition to her work at LVA, Dr. Mirman also sits on the Executive Board of Win Win Entertainment. This nonprofit organization pairs volunteer entertainers with organizations that care for at-risk youth. Character impersonators, magicians, animal acts, and artists of all kinds offer their talents in five cities. They visit environments, such as hospitals, which require extensive background checks and hiring processes. Win Win helps its actors navigate these steps so that they can work directly with children in need. For this organization, too, Dr. Mirman raises funds and awareness.
Given where she volunteers, one might imagine that Dr. Mirman is an artist, herself. “It’s funny,” she says, “I’m a math-science person.” Her husband has an Economics degree, and one of her sons is a computer programmer. It was her youngest son who brought art into the family. He has an “affinity towards music” that drew Dr. Mirman to donate her time to art. Her children, now grown up, also enjoy volunteering. As a reward for completing their homework, Dr. Mirman used to take them to animal shelters to walk dogs.
“I had never planned on being a stay-at-home mom or just a philanthropist,” Dr. Mirman says when reflecting on her path. “It just turned out that it made more sense for our family.” Even though she no longer practices optometry, Dr. Mirman feels empowered by her time at ICO. She believes optometry school gave her “the confidence to know I could be successful in anything I do. With volunteer work, I didn’t just give my time and my money… I was the president of several organizations. I served on the board of several organizations. [ICO] gives you that confidence to be able to achieve other things.”
To alumni seeking volunteer opportunities of their own, Dr. Mirman says, “When you know your passion, you follow your passion, and find opportunities through the things you already care about… you make connections, and it turns into something from there.” You don’t always have to seek out the perfect way to volunteer. Sometimes, it finds you.