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GKAS ambassador alumni share best practices

August 26, 2015

By David Burger

Meeting of minds: GKAS Ambassadors and others convened at the first Give Kids A Smile Ambassador Alumni Conference. Front row, left to right: Jessica Flotterud, Cameron Grant, Joan Allen, Linda Meyers, Rachel Lovejoy, Shawna Rohner, Julie Vaughn, ADAF President Dr. Reneida Reyes, Dr. Scott Morita. Middle row, left to right: Pat Alexander, Dr. Meelin Dian Chin Kit-Wells, Dr. Dorothy Theogene, Kandyce M. A'see, Sharyn Markus, Judith Zirkle, Dr. Raymond Tseng, Lora Mattsen, Dr. Jeffrey Dalin. Back row, left to right: ADAF Executive Director Gene Wurth, Dr. Sergio Nadler, Cory Spencer, Dr. Joseph Brofsky.
The ADA Foundation hosted the first Give Kids A Smile Ambassador Alumni Conference Aug. 20-22 with the goal of sharing ideas and learning from each other, many of the GKAS program's strongest advocates.

Nearly 20 GKAS ambassador alumni — from locations ranging from Hawaii to Rhode Island — joined representatives from the ADA Foundation, the ADA and sponsoring organizations at the ADA's Chicago headquarters.  The group spent nearly two days discussing and proposing best practices, brainstorming ideas to resolve challenges facing GKAS volunteers, and exploring ways to enhance and expand the national GKAS program.

"We are very proud of what the Give Kids A Smile program has done to improve the health of millions of children over the years, through its thousands of volunteers," said Dr. Reneida Reyes, president of the ADAF and one of the participants in the conference.  "We want to make this an even bigger and better initiative in the future, and the key to that is to learn from the experiences of those volunteers who organize and carry out these events.  We are very grateful for their time here, and for all they do every year."

The ambassadors are alumni of the ADAF's GKAS Community Leadership Development Institute, held every year since 2011. The institute is a three-day session that takes place in St. Louis, the birthplace of GKAS more than 14 years ago. At the institute, the ambassadors receive hands-on experience on how to initiate, enhance and expand their own GKAS programs, and then they bring back their knowledge to serve as regional advisors for other GKAS program coordinators.

Dr. Scott Morita, a Hawaii orthodontist and President of the Hawaii Dental Association Young Dentist Group, is a 2014 graduate of the institute and returned to Chicago to communicate his experiences with other coordinators. "It allows us to share a wide variety of experiences, which helps each of our programs to grow," he said of the alumni conference. "For many millennial generation dentists, Give Kids a Smile was integrated into our dental school curriculum. As a result, giving back has become part of a mission that defines our generation. I believe through this we can all be smile makers."

"It allows us to share a whole lot of experiences and gives us a chance for our program to grow," he said of the alumni conference. "As the younger generation, giving back is part of our nature. What's more important than kids?"

Launched nationally by the ADA in 2003, GKAS became a program of the ADAF in late 2014.  It is estimated that more than 5 million children have received free oral health services through GKAS since the program's inception.  These services are provided by about 10,000 dentists annually, along with 30,000 other dental team members, and are supported by donations from sponsors including Henry Schein, the Colgate-Palmolive Company and DEXIS.

"Colgate-Palmolive has a strong commitment to improving the oral health of the public – especially children – and is proud to serve as a long-time national sponsor of Give Kids A Smile," said Dr. Fotinos S. Panagakos, global director of scientific affairs, Colgate-Palmolive Company.  "Effective education and expanding access to care are important public health priorities. Sharing best practices from these organizers and volunteers will make GKAS an even better program in the future, so we are pleased to support this innovative and important new symposium.

"Bringing together experienced GKAS organizers is an excellent way to develop best practices for the thousands of events and their leaders that will be organized in the future," said Steven Kess, vice president of global professional relations for Henry Schein Inc., president of the Henry Schein Cares Foundation and founding chairman of the GKAS program. "Each program has its own unique attributes to better serve the children in need in their community. The strength of the program is the similarities and differences each program incorporates into their training. In the end they all achieve giving kids a smile."

To learn more about the GKAS Community Leadership Development Institute, or to make a donation to support GKAS, visit adafoundation.org/GKAS.