Dr. Donna J. Rumberger,
Class of 1980
that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
Discouraged, unemployed, and dependent on welfare, a young woman watching
NY 1 News one morning saw a feature story about the Smiles for Success
program of the American Association of Women Dentists. Inspired by what
she saw, the woman, who had always felt self-conscious about her unattractive,
unhealthy looking smile, dialed the phone number on the screen. Months
later, with a new, healthy-looking, pretty smile, she found the job she
had always dreamed of and is now a full-time employee who looks forward
to going to work each morning. Smiles for Success, she
says, is responsible for my current success and happiness.
Such wonderful success stories are typical of the program which Dr. Judith
McFadden and I founded in 1996 over coffee at an outdoor café in
New York City. Smiles for Success provides free dental care to women
receiving public assistance who are motivated and determined to leave
welfare, join the workforce, and achieve financial independence. Most
are single parents in their thirties and forties. The program works in
partnership with accredited job readiness and placement services and an
agency which provides free, appropriate business attire for job interviews,
as well as regularly scheduled support group sessions, continued workshop
training, and follow-up self-help programs for a minimum of one year.
The cluster of programs
of which Smiles for Success is a part offers critical services that
are neglected by most social service agencies. No matter how motivated
and qualified a job candidate may be, the job search will usually be unsuccessful
if the candidate lacks appropriate clothing and faces her job interview
with broken down, missing, or decayed front teeth. Indeed, for women who
are trying to leave the welfare rolls, these last few hurdles can appear
Initially, the women tend to be apprehensive about visiting a dentist,
citing numerous fears and anxieties. To allay fears, build trust, and
encourage participants to make and keep their dental appointments, workshops
are presented on the importance of good oral home care. Subsequently,
the women are treated in a participating dentists private office.
Once they begin treatment, most women report being impressed by the caring
and compassion shown by
the dentist and office staff. Upon completion of treatment they undertake
their job searches with greater self-confidence, determination, and optimism
than ever before. Many enroll in college-level classes. To women who feel
uneasy about accepting free dental care, we say, I volunteered to
One of the most gratifying aspects of this program is witnessing the impact
that a woman with a newly attractive, healthy-looking smile makes on those
around her. For example, when a mother carries herself with assurance
and pride in her appearance and ability to support her family, she becomes
a role model for her children. Helping those who are determined to help
themselves and watching as the welfare-family chain is broken reaffirms
the importance of volunteerism for me personally and for all the members
of the American Association of Women Dentists who participate in the Smiles
for Success program.
We firmly believe that the disadvantaged among us are societys greatest
untapped resource, and we consider
it a privilege to be able to donate our professional skills to assist
those who are seeking permanent employment and improved economic prospects.
We commend other dentists who are practicing for life
in other ways, such as volunteering their services to assist children,
the handicapped, and the elderly who are often homebound. And we agree
wholeheartedly with Margaret Mead, who said: Never doubt that a
small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed,
it is the only thing
that ever has.