National Children’s Dental Health Month is actually in February, but it gives us a chance to talk about the dental screenings 540 children received last August in Angelina County, Texas, the home of the Junior League of Lufkin.

Angelina County is home to many low-income families – 57.4% of schoolchildren there qualify for free lunch, for example, and 8.8% more qualify for reduced-price lunch. But those free dental screenings are a great example of what can happen when Junior Leagues develop effective programs to address the needs of at-risk populations…and choose the right community partners – whether local or national – to implement the programs.

The national partner here is the Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures® program, which provides free dental screenings and oral health education to children through a fleet of mobile dental vans that travel to under-served rural and urban communities across the U.S. The Junior League of Lufkin is by no means the only League partnering with Colgate in this program – others include the Junior Leagues of Washington, Beaumont, Columbia, and Greensboro.

The Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures Van at a Junior League of Greensboro community event.
The Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures Van at a Junior League of Greensboro community event.

But the Junior League of Lufkin’s experience is telling.

First, the visit of the Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures Mobile Dental Van fit snugly into an existing program.

For many years, JLL has held a backpack-and-school-supplies drive for Angelina County kids. Expanded in 2011 into JLL’s signature project – called Back to School Bonanza – the event, held each year in August, provides eligible schoolchildren with haircuts, vision, hearing and dental screenings, and up to date immunizations, as well as a backpack full of supplies (more than 2,000 of them last year!).

Second, the availability of a national partner like Colgate Bright Smiles, Bright Futures supplements what JLL’s community partners were already doing. The Back to School Bonanza depends on the enthusiastic involvement and contributions of Lufkin’ s First United Methodist Church and Buckner Children and Family Services, along with many other community organizations and volunteers.

But there is no denying that the presence of the colorful and fully equipped Bright Smiles, Bright Futures Van was a big hit with the kids.

Tonja Childers, Chair of JLL’s Back to School Bonanza program for 2014, reports: “The Bright Smiles, Bright Futures Van is a perfect fit for our project! The number of children who received dental screenings during the one-day event more than doubled from previous years.” She adds, “The children jumped for joy as they waited patiently for their turn on the van. While inside, the children were met with friendly faces of not only the Colgate team members, but also the local dentist who volunteered to provide the dental screenings. With the help of Colgate and the Bright Smiles, Bright Futures Van staff each child left with a dental kit, increased knowledge on dental health, and a smile that would light a room.”

Tonja also played an important part in the day’s activities. “Dr. Rabbit greeted the children and encouraged them to visit the Bright Smiles, Bright Futures Van, and even posed for many pictures,” she says. “Dr. Rabbit received many hugs and high fives that day, and I know this because I had the privilege of being in the suit. I was able to witness firsthand what the Bright Smiles, Bright Futures Van brings to each event it attends. I truly hope that we have the opportunity to host the Bright Smiles, Bright Futures Van again this year for our 4th Annual Back to School Bonanza.”

Thank you, Colgate!