The stories are what drive Julie Homon to keep growing KidSMILES Pediatric Dental Clinic in northwest Columbus.
Whenever Homon runs into an obstacle related to the charitable dentistry - which she and her husband, Dr. Jim Homon, co-founded in 2009 - it's the patients who drive things forward.
"It's something that I feel very good about," said Homan, whose clinic was granted $230,000 and heads up a record total of $1.2 million in grant funding donated this year by the Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation to 29 nonprofit organizations in central Ohio. "I wish we would've started it sooner, but it's been a challenge. This has been a very difficult thing to put together, but I keep coming back to the stories, I guess."
The stories are the proof that what they're doing is helping.
It's the family that recently gained American citizenship, which couldn't afford an estimated $3,200 in dental care needed for their 4-year old son. They paid $10 for it at KidSMILES.
It's the young mom from California, whose husband served two tours of active duty and struggled to bring in enough consistent income to provide adequate oral healthcare. They also paid $10 a visit, like all KidSMILES patients.
It's also about Olivia, a girl with autism, who's gone from being unable to sit in a dental chair long enough to enjoying her experience at KidSMILES so much, she once dressed up as a dentist for Halloween.
Those are just a few of the stories the Homons have discovered since the clinic opened its doors in December 2012, following an educational outreach program in 2010, $50,000 in seed funding in 2011 and then a makeover of the clinic - all provided by the Blue Jackets Foundation, which has invested more than $9.3 million in central Ohio organizations since its inception in 2000.
The latest round of funding in KidSMILES, which operates on a volunteer basis, will go toward hiring a part-time dentist to work consistent hours. Patients will be able to schedule appointments easier, which will shrink a growing waiting list of those needing care.
"This was the next step in our partnership, in collaborating with them," said Kathryn Dobbs, Columbus Blue Jackets Vice President of Community Relations and Executive Director of the Blue Jackets Foundation. "We have such a long history with them. The education program and then helping them open the clinic, then the makeover of the clinic. So, we asked 'What's the next step for them?'"
It was hiring a dentist, an ongoing cost the Foundation hopes to help the clinic deal with through issuing a challenge grant. The clinic will receive $130,000 of grant money up front. The Foundation will then match the clinic's fundraising efforts up to an additional $100,000. That means, in total, efforts are expected to raise $330,000.
"It's exciting for us to be the catalyst for this next step, and say, 'We don't want to just give you the money, we want to help you leverage this to grow the donor base,'" Dobbs said. "We hope that when other organizations in the community see that we're supporting them, and that this opportunity exists, it will help open some doors for them to have conversations. It's a big grant for an organization of their size, so we want to make sure we're also looking at long-term sustainability."
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If sustainability is tied to need, it shouldn't be an issue.
"It is enormous for us," Homon said of the grant. "Dental care is the number one unmet heaIthcare need for children in the United States and Ohio. We have a waiting list. We have many kids waiting to be seen, and while there are other resources in Columbus, there are just not enough resources to meet the needs."
There would be even less if KidSMILES wasn't around.
"We wouldn't be here without the Blue Jackets," said Homon, whose husband is an orthodontist who's on the clinic's board and volunteers there. "We have a lot of other good partners in Central Ohio that have helped fund the clinic and helped support the clinic in many ways, but without the Blue Jackets we wouldn't be here. This is a transformative gift."
The grants were announced Thursday at a reception at Nationwide Arena, prior to the Blue Jackets' game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Other grants include funding for recipients who support pediatric cancer programs, local reading programs, local hockey associations and a Blue Jackets themed playground in the City of Gahanna that will be fully inclusive and accessible.
The headliner, though, is a pediatric dental clinic with a whole lot of stories within its walls. Helping the families who use KidSMILES to attain better oral health makes the Blue Jackets smile, as well.
"It's a cause in the community you don't hear a lot about, and yet when you look at the health causes associated with poor dental hygiene, and understand what it means for healthcare costs, it's a significant issue," Dobbs said. "This checks all the boxes [for us]. This has been a special relationship, because we've been able to play such an integral role over time."