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Family affair in Oil City

Oct. 19 GKAS program showcases the Salvation Army Dental Center's role in the community

November 13, 2012

Oil City, Pa.—As Western Pennsylvania foliage hit its autumn color peak Oct. 19, some 90 children and adult family members from Oil City, Pa. spent the sunny and warm fall day decorating pumpkins, participating in education and activities and—most importantly—getting dental screenings and care at the Salvation Army Dental Center.

GKAS fun: A youngster and his mom work on a dental education activity during the Salvation Army Dental Center's GKAS in Oil City, Pa. on Oct. 19.
Children, ranging from preschoolers to seventh-graders, came to the Salvation Army Dental Center for comprehensive dental exams, digital X-rays, fluoride treatment, sealants as needed, dental health and nutrition education, games, activities and more. More than half, about 60 children, received dental treatment. Others were scheduled for follow-up care, and 10 children with extensive treatment needs received referrals for hospital-based dental treatment. Each child received a dental care package, a GKAS t-shirt and a pumpkin to take home.

More than 50 volunteers were on hand for the GKAS event, including five dentists, 12 dental hygienists, five dental assistants, four nurses, dental students from the University of Pittsburgh dental school, dental hygiene students from Fortis Institute in Erie, Pa., staff from local health and social service agencies, teachers, college interns, health department personnel and even two student volunteers from AmeriCorps.

More than $10,000 in dental services was donated through the daylong program.
The dental center's third and by far largest GKAS day focused not just on screening, treating and educating kids, but also included parents, guardians or other adult family members in the activities, said Emilee Langer, the dental center's administrative director.

Smile: A little girl checks out her smile in the mirror at the Give Kids A Smile at the Salvation Army Dental Center in Oil City, Pa.
“Every child had an adult with them; it was amazing. It was so much fun to watch parents learning right along with their child,” said Ms. Langer. “It made us feel that we had a positive effect on the entire family. In the past, kids arrived in busses, and it was a little impersonal. This time I had a chance to talk with many parents—some who are struggling with many issues, not just dental care, and I know they appreciated all the extra steps we took with them.”

The GKAS event gave community advocates a great opportunity to introduce families to a variety of other services available to them in the community and through the Salvation Army, said Dorothy Shaffer, Twin Creeks Head Start disabilities manager.

“The GKAS event gave us the opportunity to identify parents and kids who perhaps didn't consider a dental visit important in their life,” said Ms. Shaffer. “You could see that when they came to the clinic, they were instantly relieved because the facility is modern and welcoming and the volunteers and health professionals offered them a positive experience. Outreach programs like this also help reach families who could benefit from other Salvation Army services that they may not have known about.”

Ms. Shaffer said Ms. Langer and the dental center laid the groundwork for the success of the program by reaching out into the community to help advocates and families become more aware of the importance of having a dental home and good oral health.

“Emilee has been working hard to get people in the community on board and to show everyone how they can play a role,” she said.

Volunteers engaged kids and adults in interactive education designed to promote a healthy lifestyle, from proper tooth brushing, nutrition and hand washing to games, sports and even math activities that focused on improving oral and overall health.

Honorary GKAS program chair Mark Heim, news director and radio personality at The Stream, an Internet television station serving Northwest Pennsylvania, captured the day with his camera.

“It was a great day and I had a wonderful time,” said Mr. Heim. “The only thing I like better than working behind a microphone is working behind a camera.”

He credits community involvement for a successful program in Oil City.

“If the community hadn't come together, this wouldn't have been possible,” Mr. Heim said. “It's great to see several agencies county-wide working together to promote dental health.”

The Salvation Army Dental Center's GKAS program has continued to grow along with the facility itself.

A broad-based task force formed a coalition with a mission to improve access to dental care for local residents of all ages. The group helped to establish the dental center, which opened in March 2010. The dental center has provided education to hundreds of children and families in the past two years at health fairs, schools and Head Start facilities and serves as a dental home for 2600 children and over 2000 adults in the community and surrounding area.

“The Salvation Army's mission is to reach out to meet need at the point of need,” said Maj. Patti Murray, corps officer, pastor and Venango County Coordinator for the Salvation Army in Oil City. “GKAS day was a success because any day that we can help a child maintain their smile through healthy teeth and thus healthy bodies, it is a good day. [Salvation Army founder] William Booth said, 'Nobody gets a blessing if they have cold feet and nobody ever got saved while they had a toothache.' “

Maj. Murray said the dental center's impact in the community is expanding—the dental center opened a satellite office at the local high school last month. “Oil City High School has invited us in to their school to meet the dental needs of the children of Oil City, and standing with us knowing that the needs of the whole person must be met if we are to make a difference,” she said.

Last fall, Ms. Langer was one of seven GKAS program directors that participated in the 2011 GKAS Community Leadership Development Institute in St. Louis. The GKAS Institute offers individuals the opportunity to learn how to initiate, expand and/or enhance a GKAS program and has the opportunity to interact with experienced GKAS staff at the St. Louis GKAS October program, where Give Kids a Smile was born.

“I liked that in St. Louis program volunteers chaperoned small groups of kids, taking them from station to station during the event. This provided a more meaningful experience for both the volunteers and the children,” Ms. Langer said. “Everyone had a change to interact one-on-one.”

“Another thing I learned was the benefit of having more dental professionals on hand for the event. This year having more volunteers and professional staff kept the clinic flowing more smoothly and reduced any slow-down during the day. My GKAS Institute experience was very valuable,” she added. “Any time you can collaborate with experts it helps your become stronger and more meaningful.”

In the future, she added, she'd like to continue to expand the program to emulate the St. Louis GKAS Tiny Smiles program, which serves very young children age birth to 3 years and their parents to promote oral health practices like wiping gums, nutrition counseling and more.

“I'd also like to explore the possibility of launching “Give Parents a Smile” day here,” Ms. Langer said. “So many of the parents I talked to during this year's event said they wished there were something like this for adults, too. There are so many people in our region without access to dental care. A program to promote routine oral health care would have a significant impact on the community.”