In January 2018, I began visiting the Boys & Girls Club of Jacksonville, Alabama. Through my involvement in my local community and its schools, I noticed that an overwhelming number of children lack professional role models. I wanted to help change that.
In a short time, my relationships with these children began to blossom. On any given day, there is an average of 20 children who come to the club after school. Their ages range from 6 to 10 years old. The kids are excited every time we walk in the door. I began to learn about each of their backgrounds, perspectives and needs.
Since I started volunteering, I have found many ways to connect with these children. Most days this includes playing a game of basketball, helping with homework and simply listening to their stories. There was one boy who would tell me about what it was like living in a two-bedroom apartment with 10 other family members. It didn’t take long to realize that he yearned for companionship with others, especially older mentors.
I began bringing my guitar to the club. When I took the guitar out of the case and began to play, the children would immediately drop what they were doing and came over to observe. One child asked if I played music for a living. I explained that music was a hobby, and I wanted to be a dentist “when I grew up.” The children immediately began to voice their opinions and feelings about going to the dentist, and most of them had feelings that were not positive or happy. Over half of them began to show me their various dental restorations and caries. It occurred to me that most of these children did not have access to adequate dental care. I also realized that the majority lacked the knowledge to practice healthy oral hygiene.
I knew something needed to be done. I approached a pediatric dentist whom I frequently shadowed and asked if her practice would donate dental supplies for each child. They graciously gave me a box filled with bags of hygienic products. Each bag contained an age-appropriate toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss. I decided that I also could use this opportunity to educate the kids about oral hygiene. I scheduled a day to speak to them and distribute a bag to each child. They were ecstatic about receiving the bags and attentively listened while we discussed topics ranging from the importance of flossing to the damaging effects of sports drinks.
Initially, I thought this would be a one-time event to help point these children in the right direction. But after I saw the impact that a gift and education had on these children, it was apparent that this was just the first step. Over the past few months, I have been working to institute a program that would provide these kids and others like them with the necessary supplies to maintain their oral health. This project is still a work in progress, but I would hope to see it take off in 2019.
~ Andrew Clingan, Predental, Jacksonville State University ’17