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home : news : news Sunday, November 19, 2017

10/21/2017 Email this articlePrint this article 
Contributed photo Central DeWitt Community High School students who volunteered at a recent dental clinic in Cedar Rapids were (front, from left) Abbey Strong, Drew Deke, Jack Campbell, Julia Campbell, Keri Donahue; (back) National Honor Society adviser LeAnn DePue, Jacob Townsley, Ty Fischer, Rachel Zimmer, Kody Craddick, and Clayton Melvin. High school associate Sharon Buttars also accompanied the students
Students see another world in working at dental clinic
Honor Society assists Mission of Mercy staf
For many people who find themselves sitting in the waiting room of a dentist's office, "lucky" is not the first word that comes to mind.

But after spending a day with people - including young children - who cannot afford proper dental care, members of Central DeWitt's National Honor Society said they felt a bit differently.

NHS adviser LeAnn DePue and Sharon Buttars, an associate at the high school, recently took 10 students to the US Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids for the annual dental clinic of Iowa Mission of Mercy.

This was the 10th year for the large-scale clinic, which is held at different locations year to year.

Since 2008, IMOM has served almost 13,000 patients from across the state and beyond, providing nearly $8.5 million in free dental care.

DePue said this was the third year she had taken Central DeWitt students to the event. Two years ago, the clinic was held in Davenport. Last year, her group traveled to Dubuque to lend a hand.

Of the past three years, DePue believes this year's event was by far the best.

"I took a bigger group of kids this year," she said. "They were able to split into pairs, and all did different things. On the way home, they compared what they had done. ... Collectively, they had a lot of different experiences. I thought that was great."

The goal of the event is to provide free dental care and education to visitors, and to reduce health risks and suffering.

According to IMOM's website, the main objective is to "relieve pain and restore smiles."

High demand for dental work

The clinic is staffed with hundreds of volunteers, dentists, and dental hygienists, assistants, and technicians who see patients on a first-come, first-served basis.

Cleanings, extractions, fillings, and a limited number of root canals and "flipper" partials are provided.

The clinic in Cedar Rapids opened at 6 a.m. Sept. 29.

What surprised Central DeWitt students most was seeing how many people were waiting to take advantage of the service.

"Some started lining up at 4 p.m. the day before," senior Keri Donahue said.

Fellow senior Julia Campbell helped patients to do an exit assessment once their dental work was complete.

Each patient is given a medical file of the procedures they received that day, and those are put into a system so there is a record of their history.

Campbell said that by the time they arrived Friday, the line of people waiting to be seen wrapped all the way around the outside of the US Cellular Center and down the street.

"By 8 a.m., they had already completed 1,300 exit assessments," she reported.

NHS students helped wherever they could. Donahue and Ty Fischer were Spanish translators for some of the patients, and assisted people with other, more disconcerting, issues.

"We were amazed by the number of people who couldn't read," Fischer said. "And there were a lot of people who didn't know their own health history, or had never even been to a doctor before."

Rachel Zimmer and Abbey Strong worked in the childcare area, where patients could leave their children while being treated.

Appreciation for services

Clayton Melvin helped patients to fill out their medical forms.

He said that as sad as he felt for those who couldn't afford to go to the dentist, he couldn't help but be inspired by their genuine appreciation.

"I was surprised by the positivity," Melvin said. "Some of them have never had a dental check-up, but they were so grateful ... overjoyed. It was amazing to see how happy they were."

Campbell agreed, recalling an Amish boy - who had just had all four of his wisdom teeth extracted - repeatedly thanking volunteers for bringing him much-needed relief.

"The large majority of the people I talked to said their experiences were just wonderful," she said. "They were so thankful, and just happy they were able to have the work done."

DePue said IMOM officials call the event "controlled chaos," with so many people having different procedures done at one time.

But it is a much-needed service that - despite its size - runs like well-oiled machine.

"They just keep it going," DePue noted. "There's never an empty chair, until the very end of the day.

"It's exciting to see the kids excited to help others. It makes me thankful I work in a school district that allows me and my students to do things like this, and have these kinds of experiences."

Motivated to volunteer

The students said the clinic motivated them to spend more time helping people.

"I've always helped people whenever I can, and I really enjoy it," Donahue said. "But if I could do this every day, I would be perfectly content."

Melvin said he was deeply affected by one patient in particular - a woman who had served in country in Iraq as a member of the United States Army.

To see a veteran now living in poverty without proper dental care was an eye-opening and humbling experience.

"Going to the dentist is not always fun, but it is a privilege," Campbell said. "It makes us think about the people who have helped us get to where we are now. It's up to us to give others the same opportunity. If your glass is full, you need to try to fill up someone else's."

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