Making smiles, changing lives

Members of K-State’s Pre-Dental Club volunteer at Kansas Mission of Mercy

For some, dentist appointments are biannual visits that only require a phone call to confirm.

For others, dentist appointments require a long road trip and endless lines, with no confirmation they will be seen.

Kansas Mission of Mercy, an organization that provides free dental care for underserved populations, hosted their annual KMOM event in Pittsburg, Kansas, in April 2019, with the help of more than 600 volunteers, including 19 members of the Kansas State University Pre-Dental Club.

KS Mission of Mercy
Kansas Mission of Mercy provides dental care for hundreds of people at this event.

“I don’t think many people realize how much of a need there is for dental care,” said Katelyn Stepanek, a member of the K-State Pre-Dental Club and senior in biology. “Going there, you see how many people are really in need of care and how many people don’t get it. It makes you really excited to be able to go into something like this where you can really help people.”

Over the course of two days, Kansas Mission of Mercy served 743 patients and provided more than $1 million worth of free dental care.

“I think the reactions on people’s faces when they get dental care is a wholesome experience; it really touches you,” said Jackson Clements, president of the pre-dental club, at that time, and a May 2019 graduate with a degree in life sciences. “These people, they really need help.”

K-State pre-dentistry club volunteers
Kansas State Pre-dental Club members left to right: Nick Kirmer, Azzy Minjarez, Sara Vandevoort, Julie Andazola, Audra Bergquist, and Jackson Clements

Volunteers play a variety of roles including monitoring the doors, translating and directing patients to the correct station based on their needs.

Julie Andazola, vice president of the pre-dental club at that time, and a Dec. 2019 graduate in life sciences, said she has volunteered at KMOM for the last four years and helped in various ways.

“My favorite part is being able to translate for the Hispanic community,” Andazola said. “I know how scary it can be to trust a doctor you can’t speak with.”

Andazola said she has translated in previous years, but this year she translated more than usual due to the low number of volunteers who could translate.

“A specific moment that stands out is when I translated for a young girl who had two baby teeth that never grew in,” Andazola said. “She wouldn’t have been able to communicate with the dentist that she wanted those specific teeth fixed. With my help, the dentist was able to address her concerns. With her new smile, she cried of happiness. It was an emotional experience that we will cherish forever.”

The pre-dental club has been able to volunteer at KMOM for several years with help from the K-State Student Governing Association.

“Funding is needed,” Clements said. “Paying for five or six hotel rooms is expensive. They give us a reduced rate for KMOM, which helps, but that funding is crucial for us.”

While KMOM is a great opportunity for K-State students and others to volunteer, the impact goes beyond gaining experience in the dentistry field.

“KMOM really brings our club together. Each year we get really close and we are able to connect with each other,” Clements said. “It’s a wonderful experience for us, and I want to personally thank SGA for funding us every year. Without them, we couldn’t do something like this, and we are very fortunate to have this experience.”

Julie Andazola
Julie Andazola helps translate for Hispanic clients.

To support the Pre-Dental Club at K-State, contact Heather Strafuss at heathers@ksufoundation.org or 785-775-2146.

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eric holderness

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