Advocacy

Students set high bar for AOA-PAC contributions, congressional advocacy conference participation

AOA News, April 21, 2013

AOSA Past President Jen Sidun, center, and AOSA President James Deom, at right, accept the Keyperson of the Year award from AOA Immediate Past President Dori Carlson, O.D.

AOSA Past President Jen Sidun, center, and AOSA President James Deom, at right, accept the Keyperson of the Year award from AOA Immediate Past President Dori Carlson, O.D.

During her presidency, AOA Immediate Past President Dori Carlson, O.D., challenged optometry students to get involved in organized optometry and support the efforts of the AOA and American Optometric Student Association (AOSA), and they responded with a resounding affirmation.

Students made a record amount of AOA-PAC donations in 2012 and garnered the largest participation ever in the 2012 Congressional Conference – nearly 400 students. The results were so overwhelming that for the first time, the AOA-PAC Keyperson of the Year award was presented to the AOSA.

Making a difference

The AOSA set out to establish a network of AOA-PAC Representatives consisting of third-year students.

“We asked them to come up with fun and exciting ways to engage students in political dialogue about our profession while inspiring them to get active and support the efforts of our PAC in Washington,” said AOSA President James Deom. “An added value for those students who became members of AOA-PAC was the opportunity to attend AOA’s advocacy meeting in Washington, D.C. AOA provided housing for those students who felt passionate enough to fund their own travel to attend the Congressional Advocacy Conference and lobby on behalf of our future profession. Almost all optometry schools rallied, and the student support was clearly evident.”

The AOA-PAC Board, lead by Chair Ron Benner, O.D., decided to incentivize and reward those schools that had been outperforming the other schools.

The PAC board developed a recognition program based on the percentage of participation at each school coupled with the average donation from that school. Levels were set to recognize schools with high performance levels.

AOA-PAC created lapel pins for the new AOSA school levels similar to state affiliate pins, but awarded based on school participation and donations and not individual giving.

This new program was introduced at Optometry’s Meeting® in Chicago, and the lapel pins were distributed for the students to wear as proudly as their high-donating AOA colleagues.

The effort paid off, and student PAC donations in 2012 totaled more than $20,000.

“The students banded together even in the face of increased loan repayment percentages and rising tuition costs to donate more dollars than 45 individual state affiliates had raised at the time of the meeting,” said Deom. “Furthermore, several of the stellar schools independently raised more than seven individual state affiliates. This as an extremely positive effort from the future of our profession, but is also a call to action for practicing optometrists throughout the country.”

Secure future

Volunteer efforts coupled with the money raised by AOA-PAC give the AOA’s Advocacy Group and Washington office the tools and resources to fight and win battles for the entire profession.

“It was very clear from the student donations to PAC, the number of students in attendance and the participation of students walking the halls of Congress in conjunction with AOA’s Keyperson network that the future of our profession will be in good hands,” Deom said. “The students in attendance showed a clear understanding and willingness to meet the current battles as well as future battles that the optometric profession will have to participate in head on. This next generation of ODs appears willing to carry forward their passion for the profession in numbers to continue to move the profession into the future.”

One of the major goals of the AOSA for 2013 is to improve upon its efforts in 2012 in support to AOA-PAC.

Deom emphasized he would like to challenge practicing doctors throughout the country to become stewards of political activism for students expressing interest in legislative matters facing the profession.

“I encourage doctors to get involved in AOA-PAC both through financial support and in lobbying efforts,” Deom said. “Students need involved doctors to emulate themselves after to ensure a bright future in our profession. Doctors can help mentor students who are interested in lobbying and educating our legislators by reaching out to AOSA trustees at schools throughout the country. The trustees of the AOSA can be found on our website at http://www.theaosa.org. Please feel free to reach out to them to set up an opportunity to ensure the future of our profession is a bright one!”

For more information and to donate to AOA-PAC, visit www.aoa.org/PAC.

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