Posted by Margie Wachtel, Communications Director
Families First Health & Support Center – Portsmouth, NH
Last winter, Families First Health & Support Center, the community health center in Portsmouth, NH, was given the opportunity to compete in an online vote to win a $20,000 Dental Health for All grant from Tom’s of Maine. We hoped to win the grant to help us launch a new program of mobile dental services for the homeless.
As one of the very smallest organizations in the competition, we figured that our only hope was to try harder. So we asked our supporters to vote every day during the 10-week competition, and offered daily email reminders to help them do that. We were worried that this was a lot to ask and that people might be annoyed, but the opposite was the case: People seemed delighted to be able to do such a small thing that had the potential to help others so much. Our participation in the competition increased enthusiasm and support for Families First and raised awareness, as our core group of staff, board and supporters asked their friends and family to vote too. Everywhere we went, people would tell us, “I’m voting for you every day.”
The perseverance and loyalty of our voters paid off! When we found out we had enough votes to win one of the Dental Health for All grants, the first thing we did was email our network of supporters. We received a deluge of excited replies, including this one from one of our colleagues in the social services community: “Well, God Bless Blackberries! I received your message in the middle of a [coalition] meeting and took it upon myself, because I was so excited, to share the good news. You should have heard the cheer that went up.”
After receiving the grant from Tom’s of Maine as well as other resources, we were able to launch our mobile dental program in late August of this year. We began with weekly visits by a dentist and dental hygienist to Cross Roads House, the largest homeless shelter in our region. In the first month of the program, we served 37 patients in 71 visits. Every week, people are lined up waiting for services. Services range from basic dental hygiene (teeth cleaning) appointments to more complicated procedures. One of the homeless patients who benefited from access to dental care is a woman who had been in an abusive marriage decades ago and had had her two front teeth knocked out. She could never afford to have them replaced. For 20 years, she told our staff, “Every time I looked at myself in the mirror I was reminded of him and what he did to me.” At our program, she was able to get free dental services, and financial assistance to help her pay lab costs to make a “flipper” to replace her front teeth. Now she has confidence and feels that her employment prospects have gone up tremendously.
We hope that you’ll look for ways to support increasing access to dental care in your community. One of the ways you can do this is by taking the time to vote for a dental clinic in the “Dental Health for All” program. This simple action can make a big difference to a community based mobile dental clinic, and the patients they serve.