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Children Receive HOPE, Dental Services Through New New Profit

By Mike Sherry, for the KHI News Service, May 10, 2012

The wails were heart-wrenching, but the fear passed, and the patient emerged with a shy smile.

“How do you feel?” Sherri Nunn asked her 5-year-old son, Shon Fields.

“Better,” he replied softly, opening wide so she could see his new filling.

The cavity fix came last week courtesy of HOPE, which is short for Heartland Outreach Providers: Excellent Care in Mobile Dentistry. Its staff was onsite at a Head Start location in Raytown.

Founder and executive director, Ronni Gochee, operates the nonprofit from the basement of her home in Independence. Her part-time staff consists of four dentists and six dental assistants.

In less than a year of operation, the nonprofit has served about 2,100 low-income children at about 30 locations throughout Jackson County. Roughly half the patients have no insurance, and HOPE provides care regardless of the ability to pay.

It has not always been easy.

“Sometimes I say, ‘What am I doing,” said Gochee, 60. “But as soon as I walk into the school or wherever I’m at, I’m thinking, that’s why I’m here.”

But the biggest challenge might be the one that is looming just ahead.

Gochee’s church, Pointe of Hope Lutheran Church in Blue Springs, provided funding of about $300,000 to purchase equipment and cover
first-year operating costs.

Pointe of Hope is so committed to providing dental care for the needy that it has included space for two rooms in its newly opened church at 1215 N. Missouri Highway 7. But the church’s financial commitment to HOPE is ending.

“Now it’s my responsibility,” Gochee said of the fundraising before her. HOPE’s annual operating costs are about $200,000.

Gochee and her husband cart thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment, including a $12,000 hand-held X-ray machine, to the sites in two small Dodge hatchbacks.

The mobile clinic also includes three collapsible work chairs purchased from a maker that specializes in transportable dental equipment.

HOPE has been a Godsend for the community, according to officials with Head Start and the Kansas City Public Schools.

Bringing dental services to where the children are takes a burden off parents who have to work around jobs and transportation issues.

The work is critical, they said, since Head Start requires dental exams before children are eligible, and it can take months to get children seen by a private practitioner or at a dental clinic.

But for officials like Sandra Reece-Tinsley, the health specialist for Mid-America Head Start, which serves families in Clay, Jackson, and Platte counties, and Maria Garcia, the Head Start health nutrition specialist in the Kansas City school district, HOPE is even more valuable because it goes beyond the basics.

Gochee, they said, also educates parents about proper dental care for their children and is a magician in finding specialists who can take on more complicated procedures.

That whole package is “like a diamond, a carrot – I don’t know how to explain it,” Reece-Tinsley said.

“It’s a cherry on the cake – that’s what it is,” Garcia said.

The women marveled at how the behavior of a 4-year-old had taken a 180-degree turn after an examination by HOPE. It turned out he had been acting out because of a toothache that HOPE addressed with a root canal.

It’s more than her Lutheran faith that fuels Gochee, who has also enlisted her sister for volunteer administrative work on the weekends.

She is also honoring a deceased friend and mentor, local banker Harry “Hap” Kelly. Kelly was a patient of Dr. Thomas Anderson, who has a dental practice where Gochee worked for 17 years until 2003.

She left to work for Kelly when he started a mobile dental business for residents of long-term senior care homes. The company now serves facilities in more than a dozen communities around the Midwest and down into Texas and Oklahoma.

In her work, Gochee said she is implementing Kelly’s dream of offering dental services to vulnerable populations.

“I’m doing his vision,” she said. “This is what he wanted.”

Gochee’s services certainly meant the world to Nunn, Shon’s mother.

An unemployed single mother, she said there was no way she could’ve paid for the work.

What would she have done without HOPE?

“Oh Lord,” Nunn said. “I’d be lost. I would definitely be lost.”


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