Elks and local family team up to support free dental clinic for Beaver Island students

Students enrolled in Beaver Island Community School recently received a free trip to the dentist, courtesy of a grant from the local Elks lodge and a matching gift from an island family.

The free service was a real gift to families who might otherwise have had to pay to fly their children to a dentist, since there is no longer a full-time dentist on the remote island in northern Lake Michigan. The mainland is about 30 miles away, accessible by a 20-minute plane ride.

The grant: Beaver Island Elks Lodge #2886, one of fraternal order’s newest lodges, awarded $3,000 to the Beaver Island Rural Health Center, helping move the health center’s Good Samaritan Fund one step closer to activating its free dental initiative.

Lori Taylor-Blitz, who is a member of the Health Center board of directors and the local Elks Lodge, says the fraternal organization’s mission is to invest in communities through programs that help children grow up healthy and drug-free, meet the needs of today’s veterans, and improve the quality of life. 

The Elks, she says, are always looking for appropriate ways to give back to the community. “I know our membership is delighted to demonstrate our value to the community by participating in such a unique project,” she says.

The gift: Island resident Nadra Johnson made the project a reality by matching the Elks grant with donation from the Johnson family, which has a long tradition of involvement in the health center's Good Samaritan Fund. 

“How could I not support such a worthwhile project,” Johnson says. “Insuring island youth have access to proper dental care can be truly life-changing. Good dental care and habits can improve the overall health and self-esteem of an individual. This is such a meaningful project. I’m so happy for the Center and island youth.”

Participating dentists from Dental Clinics North, a partnership of local health departments in Northern Michigan, discounted their services as well.

The free clinic services: Ann Partridge, managing director of the Beaver Island Rural Health Center, says the 32 students who attended the recent free clinic had their teeth cleaned, x-rayed, and treated with fluoride and sealant as needed.

“We are beyond grateful,” Partridge says, adding she was also grateful that the weather cooperated, on both Beaver Island and Charlevoix, allowing the dental team to travel safely.

Home to about 500 year-round residents, Beaver Island lost its lone full-time dentist a few years ago. Beaver Island Community School has 54 students enrolled pre-K through 12th grade.

Dental Clinics North operates a clinic within the Beaver Island Rural Health Center complex and staff visit every few weeks throughout the year. 

In 2020, the Beaver Island clinic served 141 patients over 293 visits. 

What people are saying: “It’s a fantastic thing for the kids on the island, for sure,” says Kerry Smith, administrative assistant for the school. The Elks and Dental Clinics North have worked for quite some time to be able to provide the services.

“It’s huge (for these kids),  because they finally have the opportunity to see a dentist,” Smith says. “It’s very expensive for families to fly off the island to have kids’ dental work done.”

What’s next: Partridge says some students found to have cavities will require follow up care at the dental clinic. In addition to hoping to continue the cleaning and screening clinic annually, the health center is looking at ways to address the follow-up care as well, through other programs or Good Samaritan donations.

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