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Day of Caring

Patricia Bonwell, a volunteer for A Day of Caring, drove two hours to help at the Tidewater Free Clinic. Here, she cleans the teeth of Charlotte Wells.

Clinic’s patients get free dental care

Months of work was done in one busy day at the Western Tidewater Free Clinic in Suffolk on Friday.

For the first time, the clinic was a recipient of the United Way of South Hampton Roads’ 19th annual Day of Caring, for which volunteers of all professions and abilities volunteered their time and talent to help others.

“Some of the dental patients that are being treated today were screened and have been on our waiting list since May 2009,” said Pamela Witt, clinic coordinator. “We have more than 900 patients on our waiting list. The need here for dental and medical care is huge, and it’s difficult to see the number of people who come in. The work being done today is putting a good dent in our list to move others up.”

The Day of Caring’s goal is to promote and encourage the value of volunteerism, increase awareness of local human service agencies and show the good that can be done by pooling resources.

“This year we have 1,900 volunteers working at 102 locations throughout the area,” said Andrea Kellam, vice president of the United Way for South Hampton Roads. “They’re everywhere from here to ForKids in Norfolk, helping do landscaping and painting.”

In years past, the effort has largely focused on manual labor. This is the first year medical services have been done on a volunteer basis by dentists, doctors and clinicians.

It was thanks to Access Partnership that the doctors were brought in and the clinic was included this year.

A few months ago, Candice Driskell, executive director of Access Partnership, approached United Way’s Kellam about including medical services in the Day of Caring. Both women have medical backgrounds, and Driskell started dreaming up all the possibilities.

“There are so many resources out there,” Driskell said. “It’s just a matter of connecting them, which is what we do. I know that as a volunteer I can feel out of my element doing landscaping, but I would love to use my talent as a nurse to help people, and I’m sure other doctors would feel the same.”

Driskell was right.

The United States Navy donated two dental vans, which provided four extra dental chairs, and there were doctors, dentists and clinicians who turned out to lend a hand. Some drove the better part of two hours to get to the clinic.

“It feels good to know you’re using your abilities to help people who really need it,” said Dr. Dennis Cleckner, a dentist with a Virginia Beach practice. “I’ve done multiple extractions today. It’s not just getting rid of a pain or a nuisance, though. It contributes to overall health. If left alone, it can lead to heart disease.”

The clinic opened in 2007 and began providing dental services in April 2009 through a mobile dental clinic. This year, with its move into a new building, WTFC built a dental wing, where volunteers now provide dental and medical services to uninsured people in Western Tidewater between the ages of 19 and 64 who meet certain income requirements.

One such recipient of Friday’s labor of love was Stephen Stephens, who has been unemployed since the closing of International Paper.

“I’m having my teeth cleaned so I can have my fronts put in,” he explained. “This helps a lot, because I don’t have money to get my teeth cleaned, but it has to be done first. I’ll just be so glad when I can chew food properly.”

After all was said and done on Friday, 45 dental patients were scheduled to be seen and 28 new medical patients were to be brought in and processed.

“A busy day for us is seven patients,” Witt said. “Our wait list gets bigger and bigger every day. What they helped do here today was huge.”