Improving Suffolk’s smiles

Published 10:16 pm Monday, February 22, 2010

Third grader Briana Hill has a pretty smile, though she seems too nervous standing in front of her classroom at Oakland Elementary School on Monday to show it.

But the smiles of Briana and her classmates turn out to be the perfect visual aids for the girl as she makes a presentation asking for help with an oral hygiene drive this week at the school.

“It’s important for kids to smile,” she says. “If kids aren’t healthy, then they feel unhappy. If you’re not happy, then you don’t want to smile.”

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Briana made her presentation to three different third-grade classes at Oakland on Monday. She challenged her classmates to collect and donate toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash, whitening strips, rinse cups and other oral hygiene supplies throughout the week to cap off National Children’s Dental Hygiene Month.

The project, which will culminate in a vote next week for the appropriate United Way-affiliated recipient of the items, is more than just the average elementary-school drive, however. Briana has made organizing the collection effort her entry into Oakland’s fourth annual talent show.

“Talents aren’t just singing and dancing,” Principal Chris Phillips tells the children in one classroom as he’s introducing Briana. “This is a talent, too.”

Showcasing service as a talent is a good fit for the Access Partnership, a nonprofit organization that will be working with Briana and her classmates to identify the organizations that would benefit most from the donated oral supplies at the end of the week.

“It is wonderful that a third grader would take a project like this on,” said Candice Driskell, executive director of Access Partnership. “There is a lot of power behind our youth.”

Driskell suggested several options for the students to consider when it comes time to vote for the items’ recipients next week. Among them were the Western Tidewater Free Clinic, which is just launching a dental program, and the ForKids shelter for homeless families.

Briana said she and her mother had thought of ForKids themselves when they first talked about the project.

“We’re lucky to have a school that supports things like this from its students,” Briana’s mother, Carrie Hill, said Monday. “With the current public school budgetary situation our community faces, I believe my daughter is a great example to parents. We all need to step up to the plate and take action on behalf of our local children’s needs.”

Classes at Oakland will collect supplies through Friday. On Monday, the class that collects the most donations will get Tropical Smoothies from a student’s mother and certificates of appreciation from the United Way.