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Making the World a Better Place

Sept. 1, 2007
Volunteerism and community service will make the world a better place and are an integral part of who we are as a nation.
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Volunteerism and community service will make the world a better place and are an integral part of who we are as a nation.

by Ann-Marie C. DePalma, RDH, MEd, FAADH

According to Wikipedia (, community service refers to service that a person performs for the benefit of his or her local community. People become involved in community service for a variety of reasons - from wanting to help others to providing a sense of fulfillment or belonging. Community service involves the act of volunteerism. Again, according to Wikipedia, volunteerism is the willingness of people to work on behalf of others without the expectation of pay or other tangible gain. As hygienists, we educate and benefit the patients we serve in our practices and receive, hopefully, good compensation for it, but what about the larger communities that we live in? Do you promote the profession of dental hygiene through active community service in your area?

Many of us are strapped for time because of family and work responsibilities. However, even those who say they “don’t have time” can volunteer and promote themselves and the profession. Volunteering can be an elaborate project where needs assessments and other measures are performed, or it can be a simple one-hour, one-time occurrence. Almost anything can qualify as community service. Many high school and college programs require students to participate in some sort of community service endeavor. In 1990, the National and Community Service Act helped schools and colleges promote service learning in their programs. It has been shown that volunteering helps promote a sense of self-worth and provides untold benefits for both those providing the service and those receiving the service.

In a recent survey funded by a youth volunteer group,, educators were asked to assess their students’ growth in leadership, citizenship, and character skills along with academic skill development.

  • 91 percent said volunteering increased students’ self-confidence.
  • 61 percent saw an increase in students’ academic performance and a decrease in school discipline problems.
  • 87 percent saw an increase in student and staff morale.
  • 77 percent saw an increase in parental and community involvement at school.

Volunteering and community service allows one to:

  • Connect with a community.
  • Conserve funds for nonprofit, community, or faith-based organizations.
  • Share skills and gain new skills.
  • Meet a variety of people from various backgrounds and walks of life.
  • Enhance one’s resume and form important network contacts.
  • Develop self-esteem and self-confidence while experiencing new things and serving one’s country.

If community service is so important, how or where can one start? First, think about your interests or goals, things that you are passionate about. Years ago, a friend had an interest in helping others and thought a career in nursing might be an option. At the time, she was a teenager with limited resources. She decided to volunteer at the local community hospital in a number of roles. She quickly learned that nursing would not be for her, but she did find another health-care opportunity that would later become her chosen profession.

Others have taken their passions and interests in children, the environment, and their faith and volunteered for related organizations. As dental hygiene professionals, I believe it is our responsibility to become active members of our professional associations, not express apathy. Throughout my career I have volunteered for a number of positions at both the local and state levels. After taking a few years off due to school and family commitments, I am now volunteering again for several organizations. When I did minimal volunteer work for a few years, I missed the opportunities to connect with others in dental hygiene. Volunteering benefited not only the organizations, but me as well. But even with my commitments, I still found time to serve as Minister of the Word at my church and as a volunteer at my sons’ school PTOs.

Do you have a passion for children? Volunteer at a local school or community activity center. Are you interested in helping the elderly? Check your senior center for opportunities. Do you like to paint or write? Contact local libraries or community centers. Are you interested in politics? Volunteer for a political organization. An unending list of volunteer opportunities awaits if you are interested and open to possibilities both locally and globally. A couple of years ago, when my son was in middle school, the local cable station announced that it was providing free classes for anyone interested in learning about the process of making cable TV shows. My son responded and for the past three years has volunteered and become very knowledgeable about the whole television process. He recently prepared a social studies project documentary that was acclaimed by students, teachers, and the cable station’s executive director - an unbelievable accomplishment for a high school freshman! Community service provides windows of opportunities for those willing to try.

In preparing this article, I found a number of Web sites available for those interested in community service. Many organizations ask for a zip code and will provide you with a list of volunteer opportunities in your area. Others ask for your interests in a particular area and will match you for interests rather than location. Many people just don’t have time to go to a facility and provide one-on-one real time volunteering. Organizations are keenly aware of this and with the Internet a new type of volunteerism is available - the virtual volunteer. Virtual volunteers can provide an organization with skills and knowledge beyond its physical borders. So now no one can say, “I don’t have time!”

On Jan. 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address said: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” Former President George Bush continued that theme with his “thousand points of light” program in the 1990s. Volunteerism and community service will make the world a better place and are an integral part of who we are as a nation. Take a chance, step out of your comfort zone, and volunteer. You never know where it will lead.

About the Author

Ann-Marie C. DePalma, RDH, MEd, FAADH, is an assistant professor at Northern Essex Community College. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dental Hygiene, 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].

Community Service/Volunteer Organizations

  • - Points of Light Foundation
  • - Corporation for National and Community Service
  • - Helping you change the world
  • - Young people helping everyone
  • - Rotary International
  • - Virtual volunteering
  • - American Dental Hygienists’ Association

Hygienists Helping Others

In researching this article, I asked hygienists if they performed volunteer/community service. An overwhelming majority responded yes! Here are some of the things hygienists are involved in.

I volunteer as a master gardener - a post that does presentations on plant sales, lawn programs, pest management, and trees. - Michelle, New York

I volunteer as a member of the Minnesota Sheriff’s Posse Association and serve as treasurer/secretary. - Jean, Minnesota

I love volunteering at the Family Community Leadership Training program each year. This program is at the University of Hawaii and includes a three-day weekend intensive program to train community volunteers on how to create and achieve personal and community visions. - Diane, Hawaii

I volunteer one to two days per month for Mission of Mercy, a free clinic offering medical and dental treatment. We are located in a church fellowship hall and treat many people who are often in pain with no place to turn. - Dianne, Maryland

I am president of our local Lions Club which provides community service and fundraising opportunities locally, nationally, and internationally. My dental office also provides treatment to the underserved in our community two to three days per year at no charge. - Lee, Connecticut

I volunteer once a month at a clinic in my community that provides medical and dental services to low income and underserved populations. Each patient is thankful for the care provided, and I am always blessed by my time spent there. - Lynn, Washington

A hygienist friend and I started going one Friday a month to a site under a freeway bridge where there is a community of homeless people. While food, a hot meal, and essentials are dispensed, we put fluoride varnish on the children whose parents agree to it. - Anita, Washington

Although it feels weird discussing our volunteer efforts, it is a passion of mine and maybe I can inspire someone else to give of their time and talents. I am a volunteer parent at my daughters’ school, choir, and Girl Scout events. - Sharon, Indiana

I volunteer at my temple helping an elderly neighbor who needs various things (transportation, shoveling, doctors’ appointments); making baskets for a cancer donation group; helping with donations to a needy, local family; and volunteering for several professional organizations. We make volunteering a way of life for our family. - Millie, New York

For the past 11 years, I have donated most of my volunteering to the fight against cancer. I always identify myself as a dental hygienist in all that I do. I think it is important for people to know what a hygienist is, what we do, and what we stand for. - Maureen, New York

When my children were younger I volunteered in their world - school, Boy Scouts, chaperoning trips, speaking at their school about dental health, all those types of things. Now that they are grown and I live on an island, my volunteering has changed but still has similar themes. My volunteering activities still benefit education and dental health by educating the Pacific Islanders about oral and systemic health. This is very rewarding and fun too! - Judy, Marshall Islands

I volunteer in a fluoride rinse program at a local elementary school and help train faculty in its administration. I have also provided dental health educational programs to the schools. I am involved in teaching math and reading to elementary and middle school students in my area. I have been a past president of middle school PTO and advisory committees. - Jane, Florida

I volunteer at a homeless shelter my temple supports. The homeless provide us with just as much inspiration as we provide them. I am also active in my sons’ schools, sports teams, and I provide services at the local Life-Care Community Center. Our family has become a “buddy” in handicapped sports leagues where we are given a player and shadow them as they play, assisting as needed. - Sandra, New Jersey

Whenever I travel, I prepare personal care kits for the homeless from hotel samples provided. Since many travel with their own toiletries, wouldn’t it be nice not to open the hotel’s products and give them to those less fortunate? Noel and I collect the samples; add to a quart Ziploc® bag with a washcloth, toothbrush, and toothpaste. Sometimes we even add nonperishable food items. We are hoping to make a huge collection from the larger dental hygiene meetings we will be attending this year. - Anne and Noel, Texas and California

I am on the advisory board for a local dental assisting program and corresponding secretary for my local dental hygiene component. I am also a Eucharistic Minister at my church and taught CCD when my children were younger. I also volunteered in their elementary schools and assisted in Girl Scouts. - Sue, New Jersey

They say charity begins at home, and I must say that in the past several years, because of family circumstances, my community service has diminished. However, during that time I cared for my elderly parents and I felt that each day with them was a gift. I aspire to be a hospice volunteer in the future, when my children need less of me. I think this would be an amazing way to give back in the community. - Jodie, New Jersey