Acts of Kindness Make a Difference
By Crystal Hamon
A ten year old boy named Tyler, who had three sets of teeth, was attending the Kids Club – a Point Washington Methodist Church after-school program – in 2005 when he caught the eye of visionary and consultant, Tricia Carlisle-Northcutt. His desperate need for orthodontic care wounded his self-image, turning his deep embarrassment into frustrated acts of anger. Eventually, he was expelled from school because of his constant fighting with other students. His single mother, helpless and without resources to ease his pain, watched his world deteriorate.
Carlisle-Northcutt thought to herself, “Someone should help that child,” and then it occurred to her, “that someone has to be me.” This moment, coupled with the 2000 survey of Okaloosa and Walton counties that spotlighted the number of children suffering without adequate healthcare, spurred Carlisle-Northcutt to begin recruiting healthcare providers to become part of the answer. Having relocated to the beautiful shores of the Emerald Coast from Memphis, her eyes were set on semi-retirement in a sleepy town while doing some work in real estate and focusing on her art. Those plans slipped away when her heart started beating for kids like Tyler.
Thus, the faith-based Children’s Volunteer Health Network (CVHN) was formed to meet the growing need of 60% of the families in Walton County and 22% of the families in Okaloosa County who are underinsured or completely without health insurance. Although the State of Florida currently offers the Florida Kid Care as a program to address some of these needs, the application process is cumbersome, time-consuming, and framed in such a way that it leaves out many of the “working poor.” The CVHN staff tells of one mother whose daughter is on Medicaid, yet her cost per share each month still comes to $1,300 before Medicaid begins to cover the costs. Even those able to qualify for Kid Care often have trouble locating healthcare professionals who accept children enrolled in the program, due to fee cuts that have discouraged their participation. According to the CVHN website, only one dentist in Okaloosa County and no dentists in Walton County are providers in the State’s Kid Care program. The private donations of time and expertise from numerous medical professionals are believed to be a faster, more efficient vehicle to care for children in our community.
“Someone should help that child,” and then it occurred to her, “that someone has to be me.”
– Trisha Carlisle-Northcutt
Once a school nurse, counselor, principal, or teacher identifies a student on the free or reduced lunch program to CVHN as a candidate, the agency will match the student with a volunteer healthcare provider specializing in the particular area of need. Volunteers attempt to cover every step in acquiring the quality healthcare these students so desperately need. The hope is that none of these students will fall through the cracks when it comes to healthcare, a problem that affects every other aspect of their lives.
Due to the efforts of CVHN since its inception in 2005, over 1,700 medical, dental, and mental health appointments have been made for over 450 children in need. CVHN has facilitated twenty-one sets of medically-needed braces at a cost of $5,200. Carlisle-Northcutt refers to these cases as, “a lifetime necessity, not a beauty treatment.” George Roll, a local physician’s assistant says, “I’ve been fortunate enough to work with the Children’s Volunteer Health Network for the last two or three years now. We see about 30 kids a month and we do it because we have a real desire to help children who have a need.”
One such beneficiary, Terry Beth, a well-regarded high school honor roll student and dance team member, sought assistance from CVHN to have an abscessed tooth extracted. However, two weeks following the procedure, complications developed and Terry Beth began experiencing troubling signs of fever. Her mother took her to the emergency room, only to discover the infection had migrated to her heart due to a previously-existing condition known as a mitrovalve prolapse; emergency heart surgery at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida would be necessary. Doctors emphasized the necessity of immediate care, saying that had the surgery been delayed one more day, she would have died. Terry Beth’s mother, Patty, after sharing her story says, “If it weren’t for the Children’s Volunteer Health Network, my daughter wouldn’t be sitting here next to me today.”
When Casey, another child in need, required a great deal of dental and orthodontic work, local realtors came together and decided to donate the money designated for their Christmas parties that year to take care of her braces. “When they called me and told me, I started crying,” says Casey’s mother, Rebecca. “These people who didn’t even know my daughter were willing to give up their parties to fix her mouth.” Harry Millsaps, one of these giving local realtors says, “Realtors are the life blood of the local economy, just like housing is. Realtors are professional people making a difference in the lives of their communities.” Now, armed with the self-assurance of a bright smile, Casey is confidently pursuing her degree in early childhood education.
CVHN ran a mentoring program called Helping Hands and Hearts until the Big Brothers and Big Sisters programs started in Okaloosa and Walton Counties where young people can now receive mentoring. One of the CVHN mentors, Zach Billingsley, befriended Bobby Ray. Bobby Ray’s father had terminal cancer, forcing Bobby Ray to endure what no child should have to experience – the loss of a parent. However, Bobby Ray stays positive with some help from Billingsley. “I’ve always been able to talk to Zach,” says Bobby Ray. “Whenever I needed to, I could just call him up and talk about it. CVHN and Zach have made this a lot easier than going through it alone.”
Bobby Ray discusses some of the thoughts he is coping with now: “Everybody is telling me that I’m going to grow up without a father and it is going to change me.” He continues, “Then, other people tell me that I can be whatever I want to be.” Billingsley assures him that “the sky is the limit” for him, and helps him realize these tough times will only cause him to grow as he turns his struggles into something positive for his future. “CVHN is a good group. It has a lot of caring people in it and it has just been great,” says Bobby Ray.
This November, CVHN will be holding one of its annual fundraisers, Cottages for Kids, in Rosemary Beach. This year’s theme is “earth friendly…kid approved.” Local architects, builders, and artisans will donate their time and skill to create extravagant playhouses (cottages) with “green” building practices for the event. These cottages will be on display from November 8th through November 28th on the East Long Green in Rosemary Beach for kids to explore and for prospective buyers to browse. Then, each work of art will be auctioned off on November 29th, 2008, with all the proceeds going to benefit CVHN and the underinsured children of Okaloosa and Walton counties. Last year’s event included such fanciful creations as Pineapple under the Sea, inspired by the popular cartoon, SpongeBob SquarePants, Dun Wishes and Dreams Castle, a “novelty palatial playhouse” complete with drawbridge, and Behind the Sky, a Japanese tea house. All utilized recycled or salvaged materials along with other earth-friendly technologies.
Proceeds from recent fundraisers have gone toward a new CVHN initiative named Just for Grins. CVHN estimates that, over the last three years, 50% of the needs to which they respond are related to dental care issues, and 90% of these needs are for emergency dental work. Just for Grins includes a mobile dental clinic housed in a newly-purchased bus that will rotate to area elementary schools, offering preventative dental procedures such as dental exams and x-rays once a year, and cleanings, fluoride treatments, and sealants twice a year to each eligible child.
“The community’s need for a program like Just for Grins is overwhelming,” according to CVHN Executive Director Dr. Mary Konovsky. “We are being very warmly received at all Walton County elementary schools because the school principals and other personnel know how important it is for their children to have healthy teeth. Pain from a toothache can distract a child from learning or even keep them home instead of at school.” As Terry Beth’s experience highlights, many untreated dental problems have the potential to develop into more serious and even life-threatening issues. Eligibility for Just for Grins services breaks down to a simple structure. If the Pre-K through third-grade student is on the free or reduced lunch plan (which includes up to 64% of Walton County school children), they are eligible for these quality services.
To date, approximately ninety physicians, dentists, therapists, and other healthcare professionals have generously donated their time to CVHN. “Anybody can do it, any community can do it. We’re an area of volunteers,” says founder Carlisle-Northcutt. She continues, “I would like to see many of the communities take care of their children in this manner.” For her efforts, Carlisle-Northcutt received the Emerald Coast Association of Realtors Humanitarian Award, the South Walton Realtor of the Year award, and the Good Neighbor Certificate of Merit Award in 2006. In 2007, she was given the Florida Association of Realtors Humanitarian Award and the 2007 Good Neighbor Honorable Mention. So far in 2008, she has also been a recipient of the Jefferson Award.
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Volunteers and generous healthcare professionals who serve in a variety of capacities make all the difference to these kids and are always needed and welcome. If you would like to donate your time or give financially to this charity meeting a crucial need in our community, please contact CVHN using the following information:
Dr. Mary Konovsky Children's Volunteer Health Network, Inc. P.O. Box 2142 Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459