For more than a year, the Waypoint Foundation of Key Largo has been singularly focused on procuring a mobile dental clinic for the Florida Keys

The effort, dubbed the “Mobile SmileMaker initiative,” received a big boost in April 2020 when the Ocean Reef Community Foundation (ORCF) awarded Waypoint a $50,000 matching grant. More recently, two grants have brought the effort even closer to the finish line: Baptist Health South Florida granted Waypoint an additional $25,000, and the PHS Commissioned Officers Foundation gave $8,500. Now, they’re asking for one final push to complete their mission.

Clarice Yentsch speaks at the opening ceremony for an exhibit on tooth health and the mobile dental clinic that ran at Key Largo Library in Feb. 2020. CONTRIBUTED

“It’s so exciting for us to be so close to our goal! It was thrilling to get the support from Baptist South Florida Foundation, Commissioned Officers and ORCF, which shows how much support we have gotten in the community,” said Christine Golia, Waypoint Foundation president. “It’s also so gratifying to be working with a team of compassionate, concerned volunteers who want to make a difference for underserved children.”

The SmileMaker Initiative is spurred on through the efforts of Golia, who serves as the community focal point for the foundation; Wally Smith, the visionary dentist with mobile clinic know-how; and Clarice Yentsch, the driving force and glue behind it all.

The mobile clinic will have 2 operatory chairs and up-to-date technology. CONTRIBUTED

A mobile dental clinic is similar to a blood-donation-mobile, Smith said, with the bus and dental care practitioners traveling to schools to provide high quality, free dental care to kids in Monroe County. In this way, they are able to provide services to youths who don’t have access to full dental care.

Waypoint has its sights set on a used, two-chair mobile unit to be refurbished and updated. This clinic-on-wheels will be run by Florida Keys Area Health Education Center Inc. (AHEC), the current provider of the local dental sealant program.

Through their efforts, and including the most recent donations, they’ve raised a whopping $94,705 out of their initial $125,000 goal. That number was Smith’s original estimate for how much a mobile clinic might cost to procure and renovate. Now, he thinks the figure might be closer to $150,000 – $165,000.

“Covid indeed complicated fundraising,” Yentsch said. “We held our breath that (our initiative) could outlive the challenge of Covid. Clearly priorities were reset by everyone.”

All three emphasized how funding initiatives during an economic downturn may seem counterintuitive, but that now is actually when the critical pediatric dental services provided by a mobile unit will be most needed. 

“When families are struggling with an economic downturn, their need for assistance with things like dental care for children increases. Increases markedly,” Yentsch told the Keys Weekly.

Golia agreed, saying, “The economic downturn causes additional struggles for families who are already struggling. It’s more important than ever for the community to assist them, (and) particularly the children….”

A mobile clinic would also be easier to sanitize to new COVID-19 standards than an open office and would eliminate the need for travel to dental offices and parents having to take time off work to bring children in, Yentsch and Golia noted.

Smith has his eye out for a suitable unit but noted that Waypoint must first “close the gap” between existing funding resources and what is required to purchase a vehicle before he can take the next step. He still wants the unit to be ready for the start of the 2021-22 school year. 

Yentsch admitted that COVID had left her disheartened and sad, wondering if “perhaps (their) dream was a fantasy too.” The newest influx of grants and funds left her feeling “re-energized” that the SmileMaker Initiative could come to fruition.

“The good news is that we are now back on track and the finish line is within sight,” she concluded. “The next big hurdle is to come down the finish line … to complete the fundraising, locate and purchase a suitable used double operatory (mobile dental clinic) and transfer … the unit and operation to AHEC.”

More information is at www.mobilesmilemaker.org/

A SmileMaker Exhibition Catalog / Booklet was created and published in March 2020. CONTRIBUTED

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