NORWICH — The Dental Task Force is a United Way initiative. It’s a partnership with a lot of people bringing oral health to local communities. Members include The Planning Department and Public Health collaborate, Fidelis, and partnered Chenango Health Network.
United Way Executive Director Elizabeth Monaco said, “We have about 50 organizations right now that we raise money for and allocate monies across four counties and also do collaborations with the Dental Task Force, as it falls into that category. The monies we raise comes from the local communities and from the four counties.”
“A few years ago we did an event with the Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) military reservists from the Department of Defense that delivers joint training to increase deployment readiness.The IRT team was here for two weeks and provided at no cost; medical, vision, dental, and veterinary care for our community.”
“We helped lead the agency for that and it showed us how poorly our community was fairing in the oral health category so we created the Dental Task Force,” said Monaco.
“Kids were coming to the clinic for multiple teeth that needed to be pulled, cavities to be filled and we didn’t have enough providers so we said, what can we do to help with this issue. We brought providers together and people in schools and local non profit agencies to address the issues,” she added.
Monaco explained teachers are watching their students struggling with oral health issues, the children have a hard time paying attention in class, their learning is jeopardized and they have difficulty eating, which then creates additional health issues. It’s effecting so many other areas of their lives and this creates a disadvantaged child in so many ways. Waiting six to nine months for a dentist just magnifies the problem.
“The dental issue is a substantial one in our rural communities. We don’t have a lot of dentists that accept medicaid nor are they accepting new patients. Parents can’t schedule appointments for their children and if a person can find a dentist out of the area that accepts medicaid, then there may be a transportation issue. Struggles and challenges continue to pile on an already hard situation,” she said.
Right now Chenango County is at 40 percent, which means 40 percent of the counties families are living at or below the medium threshold and struggling to make ends meet everyday,” said Monaco.
“During COVID, a lot of changes started happening at United Way. We started doing a lot more direct servicing and getting involved in the community differently. Neighboring United Ways were having staffing and resource challenges so we took a look at merging with Delaware, Otsego and Madison United Way. As of the first of January and the first of April, the merger was finalized,” Monaco added.
Business Operations Manager Victoria Mitchell said, “We’re the ‘jacks of all trades’ here because there is so much to cover and assist with. We rotate in many directions of organization, marketing, financing and HR. There are only three of us and we now cover four large counties. Intern Joanna Brach helps get things done and is a big help to us and the organization.”
“Before COVID we started putting together dental packages for students, making sure all of the elementary schools could get these kits. It was a big undertaking,” Mitchell said. “The Dental Task Force provided over 3,500 Dental Kits to all Chenango school districts grades pre-k to fifth.”
According to Mitchell, they were told by a few teachers of the schools, the kids were excited and telling them about their teeth brushing experiences at home and how thrilled they were to have a toothbrush of their own.
“During COVID, we couldn’t participate at the education level, helping students learn to brush well and explaining the importance of oral health but we still dropped the dental kits off. We hope to get back to presentations in the classrooms, to assist in proper oral hygiene care,” said Mitchell.
“Lourdes Van partnered with The United Way and Dental Task Force last year, offering dental services to the community. We hope to get this back again soon too,” she added.
Marketing and Communications Manager Kylie Anderson said, “Recently, Victoria and I were a part of the healthy kids day at the YMCA. We basically utilized the Dental Task Force program and provided toothbrushes to the youth. We over heard a few kids say ‘these are the same kind of toothbrushes given to us at school.’ We were glad they took a few extras.”
Monaco explained there are 1200 United Ways across the country. Norwich United Way now covers the four counties due to the merger. Since 1948 the Chenango United Way has been raising money for many needs and issues in the community.
“We’ve become a lot more than just a fund raising campaign, that’s how we started but our value and our credibility in the community is a lot more than that. We build collaborations and partnerships around community issues,” said Monaco.
“Everything is built around three focus areas; income, education, and health. So the organizations we raise money for and write checks to, are those collaborations and partnerships focused on those same areas to build strength into the community,” she added.
“Our efforts to make a difference for youth and their health is only as strong as those who help support our Dental Task Force,” Monaco said.
Monaco explained funding for Dental Task Force comes from the campaigns that United Way raises throughout the year and some fund raising from local communities such as NBT and other big organizations when they do dress down days. Also, key committee people ask outside sources that have connections in the distribution of toothpaste or floss for any donations or support they may offer.
For more information about the United Way of Mid Rural New York and its allocations process, or to volunteer, contact the office at 607-334-8815, visit the website at UWMRNY.org. or email Elizabeth Monaco at Elizabeth@uwmrny.org.