GKAS Day at homeless mission hums along thanks to Institute lessons

Awesome care: Lyla Lepkowski, 10, was a trouper as she received treatment from Bethany Saarion, a dental hygienist who works for 3M ESPE, which sponsored the GKAS Day at Union Gospel Mission. Also helping is Patrick Zawadski, a student at the University of Minnesota 

What a chicken: Gavin Walters, 2, couldn’t get enough of the giant chicken, also known as Joshua Dickman, who is an engineer planning to become a dentist. Mr. Dickman volunteered at the Give Kids A Smile Day event at Union Gospel Mission in St. Paul, Minn. While Gavin had just an exam; his older brother, Mason, 3, sat in the chair longer for an extraction.

St. Paul, Minn.—Lyla Lepkowski swallowed her fears and opened her mouth bravely. The 10-year-old’s mother signed her up two weeks ago for an appointment to receive free dental treatment today at the Give Kids A Smile Day event at Union Gospel Mission here.

“I was nervous,” Lyla admitted. But after it was all over—including X-rays, fluoride treatment, sealants and a cleaning—she decided it was actually “awesome.”

“When I was sitting there I was shaking a little bit, but it turned out great,” she concluded.

After a nervous start, the day seemed to be going well, too, for Jessica Flotterud, dental director at Union Gospel Mission, a faith-based nonprofit that provides an array of services for homeless, poor and drug-addicted people.

Today’s GKAS event at the Mission was the third that Ms. Flotterud, a dental hygienist, organized. But it wasn’t quite the routine she was used to for GKAS. In fact, she set out to make this one bigger and better than ever, which is why she participated in the 2013 GKAS Community Leadership Development Institute last Oct. 23-26 in St. Louis as one of 10 program coordinators who received grants to attend.

The Institute taught her how to scale her event to serve more children and to navigate around roadblocks. It’s a good thing, too, since she encountered one or two challenges during planning, for instance, entertainment for the kids.

“I wanted to get a tooth fairy or a tooth or something like that, and we couldn’t find anything,” said Ms. Flotterud. “But one of my volunteers said, ‘Well, I have a chicken suit.’ So I said, ‘Okay! There’s something that’ll make the kids laugh!'”

Joshua Dickman, an engineer with plans to become a dentist, happily volunteered to don a furry yellow costume with orange feet and served himself up as a chicken. He hoped he could bring moments of levity to the event by entertaining the young patients, who ranged in age from 2 to 17.

Little volunteer: Virgil Hardesty, 11, plays games with other kids who were patients at the Union Gospel Mission GKAS Day event. Virgil participated as a volunteer with his mother, Michelle, a dental hygiene student, and his two sisters Sydney, 9, and Trinity, 12. The Hardesty family entertained GKAS patients before they went to the operatories for treatment and as they awaited buses to take them back to school. The Hardesty kids missed school to volunteer. “It was worth it to help out people here,” said Virgil.

“It takes their minds off what’s going on, why they’re here,” he said. “You peek your head into the little office and check on them, and it’s just like a centerpoint for them to focus on something other than the dentist, the prodding and the poking. I’ve tried to help out with the parents, too. They have like one or two kids or three kids, and one’s scrambling off. I kind of chase them and help out.”

The Institute also taught Ms. Flotterud ways to improve her workflow setup to move young patients along toward treatment. As dental director at the Mission, Ms. Flotterud has often held sway over other free dental events, most often ones for adults. Planning those events helped her scale up her GKAS event.

“I knew stations worked,” she said. “I just didn’t realize it could work with kids until I went to the Institute.”

Ms. Flotterud said that about 180 patients signed on for appointments to receive fillings, extractions, fluoride treatments, sealants, X-rays and oral hygiene education. She also had 90 volunteers, including dentists, hygienists, dental students, dental therapists and dental therapy students, who manned a sign-in reception station, an oral care education station, a pre-treatment exam station, and five operatories—all spread out on two floors.

The Minnesota Dental Association supported the Mission’s GKAS Day event and sponsorship came from 3M ESPE and Health Partners.

Charitable team: Dr. Laura Eng (left), a local general dentist in private practice, and Jayne Grout, a dental assistant who works with her, Feb. 7 treat 7-year-old Lori Decora, at the Union Gospel Mission Give Kids A Smile Day in St. Paul, Minn. Dr. Eng and Ms. Grout regularly participate in free clinics providing dental care around Minnesota.

Dr. Patrick McGann, a local general dentist who is a longtime volunteer at the Mission, served on the advisory committee for the Mission ‘s 2014 GKAS Day event.

“Jessica’s doing a great job as a leader of the dental clinic at the Union Gospel Mission,” he said. “We’ve been doing Give Kids A Smile for several years, and each year we try to get a little bit better with more services and little bit more organized so we can see more people.”

Ms. Flotterud is already thinking about future GKAS events at the clinic, perhaps even another one this year. Lessons from the GKAS Institute and today’s GKAS event have taught her a few things. “I’ve already learned some lessons this morning with the X-ray thing and seeing how slow it is upstairs,” she said. “We can either downsize that or maybe next year I could get in some portable units and have hygiene upstairs as well.”

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