by Ann-Marie C. DePalma, RDH, MeD, FAADH
Twenty-one years ago, pedodontists Drs. David Tesini, James Kane, and John Ficarelli founded a program called Project Stretch Dentistry for Children.
It was designed to:
- Provide vital and preventive dental services to disadvantaged children in local communities and abroad
- Fund special projects for special needs children
- Develop and provide educational materials for the training of dental staff within their respective settings to help special needs children
- Provide funding to properly equip and support dental outreach clinics
Project Stretch is a private, voluntary, non-profit corporation supported by fund-raising events, private citizens, and corporations. Dentists, dental students, dental assistants, dental hygienists, and other volunteers donate their time and talent to provide dental services to children around the world. Over 30,000 children have been served in Chile, Nicaragua, Africa, Ukraine, Mexico, New Orleans, Alaska, Georgia, and Massachusetts through the efforts of Project Stretch's dental volunteers.
One hygienist, Gail Weisberg, RDH, has been involved with Project Stretch for years and has been its executive director for two years. In addition to her work with Project Stretch, Gail is a public health hygienist who provides care and oral cancer screenings to nursing home patients. She is a clinical specialist for Procte & Gamble and Milestone Scientific (manufacturer of The Wand). She considers Esther Wilkins as a mentor.
In addition to all this, Gail is the first nonpharmacy president of the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Alumni Board. She is a graduate of the Forsyth School for Dental Hygienists, which became part of MCPHS seven years ago. Upon her election to alumni president, Dr. Charles Monahan, president of MCPHS, commented that hygienists have great leadership abilities that go beyond the clinical experience.
Gail has used that leadership ability to develop programs based on her dental mission experiences entitled "Volunteerism in the U.S. and Abroad," and for nursing home patients, "Treat Our Moms as We Would Treat Yours." Participants learn about the structure of Project Stretch and nursing homes and how to organize their own mission or in-service patient care. Gail also provides information on obtaining permits, understanding fiscal responsibilities in planning costs and donations, and how to navigate diplomatic channels.
She discusses the advantages and disadvantages of working for an established group or starting one's own business. She advises those interested in dental missions that there are a number of choices internationally, nationally, and locally. Gail highlights the positives and negatives of dental missions and nursing home care, and provides insights so that dental professionals can enjoy the same rewarding experiences.
Gail loves to move around and enjoys interacting with her audiences. She often begins her programs with a bathroom key that resembles her. She uses it to demonstrate that anyone can do anything if they're open to the endless possibilities that hygiene offers. But one must think "outside the box" to achieve these opportunities.
Gail enjoys helping others in direct patient care, being in control of her profession, and working with children, special needs patients, and the elderly. She is an ADHA member and believes that the dental hygiene profession should be elevated to the next level.
During her programs, Gail challenges participants to reenergize their careers by investigating options beyond their clinical chair. By doing so, a passion for compassion can be born. Project Stretch and nursing home patient care allow dental professionals to spread that passion for compassion.
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Ann-Marie C. DePalma, RDH, MEd, FAADH, is a fellow of the American Academy of Dental Hygiene and a member of ADHA and other professional associations. Ann-Marie presents continuing-education programs for hygienists and dental team members and has written numerous articles on a variety of topics. She can be reached at [email protected].
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