United Way Partnership Gets $1.1M to Help Children Smile in Ramsey County

Twin Cities — Is there anything more rewarding than making a child smile?  Greater Twin Cities United Way announced today a new grant of more than $1.1 million dollars that will keep kids grinning for years to come.  The investment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will annually help up to 3,000 children from low-income families to access much needed dental care through Bright Smiles, an early childhood oral health program developed by United Way and its community partners.   The Partnership for Improving Children’s Oral Health, a collaborative of community clinics and organizations, will deliver the oral health and education services in Ramsey County.

Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in children, affecting 50% of first graders, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.  “We know that across the nation kids miss more than 51 million hours worth of school each year due to dental problems,” said Kathy Lentz, director of the children and families impact area at Greater Twin Cities United Way.  “We believe it’s important to tackle the problem, and Bright Smiles is a great way to do it.” With the encouragement and support of Knight Foundation, United Way piloted the Bright Smiles program in 2004 and 2005 with two St. Paul clinics, helping more than 800 Hmong and Latino children receive appropriate oral health screenings, fluoride treatments and restorative dental care, and to help them learn habits that will ensure good oral health throughout their lives.  With this new grant and a community-based partnership in Ramsey County, United Way will broaden the reach of Bright Smiles, to target children from all families with limited means, regardless of ethnicity.

Knight Foundation’s support of young children’s oral health care grew out of the community’s desire to improve health and development of young children. “Our funding of the pilot efforts helped us better understand the quiet and often painful dental health care crises young children in Ramsey County are experiencing—especially the children of new Americans,” explained Polly M. Talen, Knight’s program officer in Minnesota. Talen added, “We are delighted with United Way’s leadership in bringing a committed and talented group of community partners together to learn from the pilot programs and to think even bigger about what they could accomplish for young kids by working together over the next four years.” In addition to  Knight Foundation, those who sponsored last year’s pilot program include Patterson Dental, Delta Dental Plan of Minnesota, Edwards Memorial Trust, the Staples Foundation and three companies – Target, Deluxe Corporation and 3M ESPE.   

Six local oral health partner agencies will receive funding for Bright Smiles in 2006, including the two clinics that piloted the program. “We have seen many children between two and five years old with their mouths full of cavities,” said Silvya Diaz, community outreach worker for West Side Community Health Services, the first clinic to implement Bright Smiles. “These children often experience daily pain, which can affect their nutrition, speech, and also their social lives, because they don’t want to smile.”  United Way’s hope is to grow the Bright Smiles program by engaging even more businesses and foundations, so that someday all of Minnesota’s children will receive the dental care they need.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes excellence in journalism worldwide and invests in the vitality of St. Paul and 25 other U.S. communities. Other initiatives supported by Knight in St. Paul focus on increasing access to affordable housing on the East Side and developing a comprehensive early childhood mental health continuum of care in Ramsey County.  For more information on Knight Foundation, visit www.knightfdn.org

Greater Twin Cities United Way improves lives and builds a stronger community by bringing together hearts, minds and resources from across the region and by developing effective partnerships with businesses, government and nonprofit organizations.  Greater Twin Cities United Way is an independent organization serving Anoka, Carver, Chisago, Dakota, Hennepin, Isanti, Ramsey, Scott and Washington counties. For more information on Bright Smiles or to watch a video featuring a child who’s been helped by the program, visit www.unitedwaytwincities.org.