LGBT-owned Visionary Eye Care has been serving the community for 20 years at its Andersonville location. Over those years, it has expanded its services in a variety of ways. This month marks the launch of its redesigned and expanded practice to incorporate the storefront next door.
Visionary will also be holding a trunk show and exposition Saturday, Aug. 20, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., at its 5222 N. Clark St. location. The show will feature four eyewear designers ( 141 Eyewear, ic! Berlin, LaFont Paris and Tom Davies ), deals of the day and 15-minute discussions with the doctors.
"With this being our 20th anniversary, we thought it was necessary to highlight and showcase who we are as a practice. That's why we decided to do both a trunk show and exposition when we usually only do trunk shows," said Jamar Holloway, co-owner and director of operations.
Visionary Eye Care began when Dr. Barbara Butler and Dr. Michael Ciszek, both Illinois College of Optometry ( ICO ) graduates, decided to open a private practice in their own neighborhood and within five years the staff doubled in size and the client list grew at an exponential rate.
"We advertised in the gay papers when we first opened up," said Ciszek. "One of our slogans at the time was '50-percent gay-owned, 100-percent gay-friendly.' When we first opened, Barb got hit on way more than I did because some people assumed she was the one who was gay.
"It's been super-important to be inclusive of the LGBTQ community. Our most loyal patients, and often the most fun to work with, were the gay, lesbian and transgender folk in the area. When we first opened, we took care of an amazing transgender woman who'd been treated poorly at a previous office. She became an integral part of our early success, coming in regularly for glasses and contacts until she moved to Europe.
"Being able to be out in a practice seems like the norm now but 20 years ago, it wasn't. I worked for places before opening Visionary that wanted me to tone down the gay. I believe that being out at work and working with the LBGTQ community makes me a more happy, concerned and fulfilled healthcare professional."
Shortly after Butler and Ciszek opened their practice, Holloway joined them as manager/optician. Holloway told Windy City Times that, as an optician, he doesn't hold the doctor title but his role includes ( but isn't limited to ) doing pre-testing work before the optometrists come into the exam room as well as lab-manager duties.
"Michael and I worked together at another practice after I came to Chicago from Michigan," said Holloway. "He'd just opened Visionary but was working part-time at that practice. After about a year, I decided to leave the practice where we met and work in wholesale for awhile and that's when he asked me to work at Visionary on a part-time basis. After my contract ended with the wholesale company, Michael asked if I'd come on board as the manager here. That was in 1998. Within five years the company had grown so much that I was able to make the move to become a partner in the business."
Butler relocated east in 2002 and, two years later, Dr. Joe Warner joined the practice. Warner's specialtiescontact lenses and geriatric optometryadded to the practices' roster of services. Since then, Visionary Eye Care has added medical optometry to its list of services.
"I remember when I first interviewed with Michael in 2004 and he specifically asked if I was comfortable dealing with the LGBTQ community," said Warner. "It was hard to suppress my smile as I replied with a resounding 'yes.' My first two jobs out of residency I was uncomfortable being out with my boss or co-workers, and it only took me a few weeks at Visionary to realize that this is the type of atmosphere I wanted to work in. The best part about being here is knowing that patients can feel the same level of comfort I did, no matter what the situation."
"It's pretty amazing to run a business with two other out gay men and have people accept who you are as a person," said Holloway. "This has given us the ability to focus solely on our patients and grow the business. Personally, I've been able to accept who I am a lot more than if I'd worked at a place where being out wasn't a given."
In order to serve the needs of clients who worked in the Loop, there is a satellite office at 181 W. Madison St. that opened in 2004.
In addition, the partners also do community outreach within and outside of Chicago and have partnered with ICO to train the college's fourth-year optometry students.
Dr. Jamie Johnson, one of the first interns to come out of Visionary Eye Care's training program, joined the practice after graduation and is now the lead doctor at the Loop location. Dr. Fatima Ibrahim, another ICO graduate and Visionary Eye Care training program participant, was added to the practice earlier this year.
The community outreach initiatives include providing free vision care to Howard Brown Health patients and traveling on VOSH ( Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity ) Illinois Missions each year to provide remote villages in Central or South America optometric services as well as donated gear such as refurbished prescription glasses, donated medicines and eye-care devices at five-day commando clinics. Each year, they help about 1,000 people get the vision care they need during their VOSH Illinois Mission trips.
They also donate services to local school programs that support outreach and early childhood eye testing as well as provide $10 gift cards toward a patients next purchase for each pair of old glasses donated under their Sawbucks for Sight program.
See visionaryec.com/special/20th-anniversary-trunk-show-exposition/ for more information on the show. No registration is required.