The Salus University stars came out for the 16th annual Looking Out for Kids (LOFK) charity fundraiser Saturday night, not only to support the LOFK program but to honor one of their own, Susan “Dr. O.” Oleszewski, OD ‘76, Resident ‘78, MA, FAAO, as the 2023 Lighthouse Award winner.
Several of the University giants were in attendance, including current president Michael H. Mittelman, OD ‘80, MPH, MBA, FAAO, FACHE; Thomas Lewis, OD ‘70, PhD, FAAO, president emeritus of Salus; Lorraine Lombardi, PhD, professor emeritus who served the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) at Salus University for 50 years; Anthony Di Stefano, OD ‘73, MEd, MPH, FAAO, FCOptom (Hon), vice president of Academic Affairs emeritus; Jeffrey Nyman, OD, FAAO, and Neal Nyman, OD, who have contributed to the advancement of both optometric education and the profession, as well as the careers of more than 7,000 former students and residents; and many others.
The event, which raised $140,000 in contributions, was held at The Switch House at The Battery, Cescaphe's newest venue in Philadelphia along the Delaware River, and included entertainment, signature drinks honoring the award recipient and an online silent auction.
Although the gala attracted more than 250 attendees, the brightest star undeniably was Dr. O, Looking Out for Kids founder and driving force behind the program’s mission to ensure no child is left behind due to vision or hearing problems.
“It was a very special night. Seeing my former colleagues and so many friends and supporters, former students, it was rewarding and heartwarming,” said Dr. O. “It’s really wonderful to see LOFK has transformed into something that is serving so many more kids. It’s very gratifying to know that I’ve had a few good ideas in my time and this one was one of my better ones.”
The Lighthouse Award is given to those who are considered beacons of light and sources of strength in the community in which they live, work, and serve above and beyond their occupations. Recipients are honored for their extraordinary service that substantially benefits the health and well-being of disadvantaged and underserved children and youth in the greater Philadelphia area.
Dr. Di Stefano, who presented the award to Dr. O, said he was a little nervous prior to the presentation because he wanted to make sure he found the right words to describe her and her achievements. “It was a high honor to present Sue with this award. She’s a dear friend, colleague and co-conspirator in many ways,” said Dr. Di Stefano. “It’s difficult to find the right words when you’re talking about Sue, her role and her impact on LOFK. Her presence makes a difference in so many ways, beyond the obvious impact on kids and schools. She also has a high impact on giving. She’s resourceful, she’s persistent and she’s not afraid to fight.”
The accolades for Dr. O were plentiful. Dr. Mittelman called her “a beacon of light in our community” and added that “her work has embodied the very essence of our Looking Out for Kids mission to ensure every child has the chance to hear and see the world.”
Dr. Lombardi said she was happy Dr. O was recognized in such a wonderful way. “She deserves it. Over the years, I remember all the things she did for LOFK and what fun we used to have,” said Dr. Lombardi.
Colleagues and sponsors also had words of praise, not only for Dr. O but for the program as well. “There was little daylight between Dr. Susan Oleszewski and Looking Out for Kids,” said Alan Lindy, president of Lindy Communities and The Towers at Wyncote, himself a past winner of the Lighthouse Award. “Susan would live and breathe Looking Out for Kids. It was her mission,” he said.
Lindy Communities and the Towers at Wyncote served as platinum co-sponsors of the event with longtime LOFK supporter National Vision, Inc., whose president and CEO Reade Fahs, also a member of the Salus University Board of Trustees, offered his congratulations via a video message.
PCO/Salus dean Melissa Trego, OD ‘04, Resident ‘09, PhD, who has known Dr. O, since the former started at PCO in 2000. “Sue is a giant and a mentor and her legacy with this program is really fantastic," said Dr. Trego. “I have a lot of love, a lot of respect and a lot of admiration for her.”
NBC10 reporter and anchor, Johnny Archer, once again served as emcee for the event. Archer conducted an on-stage interview with Brandy Scombordi-Raghu, OD ‘98, Resident ‘99, director of the school vision programs at The Eye Institute (TEI), which is the clinical facility of PCO/Salus, who oversees and assists with vision screenings and comprehensive eye care services at approximately 53 schools in Philadelphia and nine additional school districts in Pennsylvania; and Lisa Simpson, nurse at George Meade Middle School in Philadelphia, about the importance of vision screenings for school children and how the schools work with staff and students at TEI.
“We view this event as more than a gathering. It’s an emblem of compassion, unity and a commitment to making a difference in the lives of children in need,” said Dr. Mittelman.