The magic of giving

July 1, 2007
Last May, RDH feature writer Cathy Seckman took me to Old Economy Village in Ambridge, Penn.

by Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH

Last May, RDH feature writer Cathy Seckman took me to Old Economy Village in Ambridge, Penn. This unique historical site, situated on the banks of the Ohio River just west of Pittsburgh, was home to a 19th century religious group called the Harmonists.

Cathy and I were fascinated by the ability of this community to be totally self-sustaining, yet blend with the contemporary society of the day. Harmonists were hardworking, industrious, and creative. They focused on agriculture and manufacturing, and eventually created great wealth by acquiring large plots of land and investing in technologies such as railroads. The sophistication of this community was amazing.

Along with focusing on hard work, this religious group practiced celibacy, a practice that eventually led to its demise. Each member was expected to contribute to the betterment or daily functioning of the community. In return, the community pledged to provide every member’s temporal needs - housing, food, clothing, and medical care - until death. The visit to Old Economy struck both of us as an ultimate example of caring for one’s community. Over lunch, we discussed all of the different communities one can belong to and the importance of being a part of and giving back to your personal and professional communities. Our conversation was particularly interesting in light of two recent events in Pennsylvania, which each in its own way highlighted the concept of giving back.

Before I share the stories, let me give you a bit of background information. Two years ago, SDS Orascoptic began donating a pair of magnification loupes to raffle off at each one of my continuing-education programs. Nearly $25,000 has been raised through a series of raffles. In the first nine months, all of the money went into a special fund created after the 2005 hurricanes. The fund helped six hygienists, faced with dire life circumstances, pay medical bills, repair flood-damaged residences, replace a roof, cover mortgage payments, supplement lost wages, and provide critical funds for a student living in the path of Katrina’s destruction.

During the past year, state and local dental hygiene organizations sponsoring courses have used the raffle proceeds for student scholarships, equipment purchases, legislative activities, community development, and access-to-care projects. The impact of giving back to the community has been astonishing!

A magical gift

In April, I presented a program in northwest Pennsylvania. Raffle ticket sales were brisk all morning. During lunch, I spent time with two local hygienists. Jessie, quite young and new to the profession, had completed her dental hygiene education after finishing a tour of active military duty. She and her husband are both military reservists, and he will likely be deployed to the Middle East again this fall. According to Jessie’s co-worker, she is a hard worker and an excellent clinician. She recently learned she was pregnant with her first child.

The other hygienist, Renee, had practiced for many years. The conversation among the three of us drifted to career longevity and workplace safety. Jessie indicated concern about the future of her career, so we shared the benefits of magnification with her. It was clear that money was an obstacle, but we encouraged her to focus on the long-term benefits. Later that afternoon, Jessie decided to purchase a pair of loupes.

Earlier in the day, Renee had an overwhelming sense that she would win the raffle. The lunch conversation reinforced her conviction to share the treasures in her life with others, so when I read off the winning ticket number, Renee stood up, looked around the room, and handed the ticket without fanfare to Jessie. The moment was magical.

Pennsylvania is no different from any other state in the nation. Significant numbers of people do not receive dental care, and the Pennsylvania Dental Hygienists Association has spent countless hours and hundreds of dollars to make dental hygiene care more accessible for the underserved. The raffle generated $700, which the northwestern Pennsylvania Dental Hygienists’ Association had already earmarked to help support access-to-care legislation.

Since pediatric dental disease is the number one chronic childhood disease in America, we do not need to look beyond our own borders to see the tragic impact of untreated dental disorders among children. Millions of children suffer needlessly. They can’t eat. They can’t sleep. They can’t focus on learning in school when their mouths hurt. Unfortunately, the death of a child in Prince Georges County, Maryland, earlier this year, directly attributed to a dental infection, has raised awareness of this painful epidemic among children in this nation to an even greater level.

In early 2006, a group of visionaries banded together to create the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation (NCOHF). The idea for the foundation grew from The Children’s Dental Center in Inglewood, Calif., started more than a decade ago by Dr. Cherilyn Sheets. The foundation’s goal is to provide necessary comprehensive dental care to economically disadvantaged children in the United States.

Several large dental corporations are underwriting the operating costs of the foundation. Many other companies and individuals are donating millions of dollars to support direct oral health care. Educators and public health officials are working with the foundation board to expand and enhance facilities all over the country where children can receive needed care. Visit for more information.

NCOHF is currently rolling out the Toothfairy CampaignTM (TFC), its national fundraising initiative. Since corporate donations fund all of the administrative costs of the foundation, 100 percent of the TFC funds go directly to providing educational prevention programs and direct patient services. TFC is designed to distribute funds raised from a community-based campaign to cover pediatric dental services for underserved children living within that specific area. Along with raising funds, the TFC helps identify underserved children residing in the targeted community.

In May, I returned to do a program in Beaver Falls, Penn., an area in the far western part of the state comprised of numerous small communities suffering economically from the now-defunct steel mills and lagging coal-mining industry. We planned another raffle. This time, the TFC would receive the proceeds.

Tickets sold quickly. Many people donated $25 or more. A local orthodontist purchased $200 worth of raffle tickets. The final tally of the day was $865. The orthodontist had the winning ticket, which he immediately gave to his hygienist. Once again, giving to others became the driving force of the event.

The funds collected in Beaver Falls comprise the first official donation to the TFC, and foundation staff members are now focused on identifying a local site that provides care to children in western Pennsylvania. Even though these two stories focus on events in two different areas, these communities are not much different from those where you and I live. The power of caring for one’s community is amazing.

Dental hygiene’s gifts to our communities

As a group, hygienists focus on the needs of others every day. Our professional education emphasizes the complex steps required to provide outstanding clinical care. Over the last 10 years, I have been privileged to speak with many hygienists across North America, and our conversations often extend far beyond daily clinical activities. The stories of ingenuity and dedication of so many in our profession are heart-warming.

The range of ideas and activities for giving back to our communities or paying it forward is amazing. The concept of giving 10 percent is a basic principle in many religious communities. Many think that tithing is limited to a financial contribution, but giving time or sharing one’s talents can sometimes be much more meaningful than donating dollars.

Thousands of dental hygienists volunteer time and talent to the ADHA on a state, local, or national level. They spend countless hours away from home and hundreds of personal dollars to ensure that our profession continues to move forward.

The final question on the application for the Sunstar America Award of Distinction asks potential recipients to tell what they do to make a difference in their community. The answer is not restricted to the dental community, but can encompass professional endeavors or other charitable efforts. Answers from applicants reveal a wide range of contributions well beyond the typical definition of a professional, interest, ethnic, or faith community.

Over the years, it has been fascinating to hear about all of the wonderful contributions that dental hygienists have made. Some collect food and clothing for the homeless, others volunteer with Scouts and Campfire Girls. Some teach religious education, others volunteer for Special Olympics. Some rescue animals, others work in shelters. Some teach ESL classes, others do mission trips. Some make personal care bags for homeless or battered women, others volunteer for sealant projects, health fairs, career days, oral cancer screenings, or screen military personnel for dental needs. Some train service dogs, others train rescue dogs. Some send cards to our troops overseas and others clean up our beaches or dirty streams. Some conduct therapeutic horseback riding sessions, others work in food pantries or cook for the homeless. Some chair community events, others walk, bike, or run to raise charitable contributions. The magic of giving from the heart creates the foundation for our comfort zone.

The importance of community cannot be overemphasized. Just like the Harmonists, each of us needs to find a way to contribute to our physical, social, professional, and faith communities on a regular basis. Contributions are the manifestation of our ongoing commitment. The exact makeup of a donation can vary; often it is a combination of time, talent, and financial treasures.

The vast majority of hygienists find ways to connect their talents and interests in ways that create a few bright moments in others’ lives or make their communities better. With very few exceptions, we are fortunate to live in our communities without worrying about where our next meal will come from or where we will lay our heads to sleep every night. Let’s help others enjoy that same comfort.

Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH, is the senior consulting editor for RDH magazine. She is an international speaker who has published numerous articles and authored several textbook chapters. Her popular programs include ergonomics, power driven scaling, patient comfort, burnout, and advanced diagnostics and therapeutics. Recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award, Anne is an ADHA member and has practiced clinical dental hygiene in Houston since 1971. Contact her at [email protected] or (832) 971-4540, or view her Web site at