The Pennsylvania College of Technology (Penn College) Dental Hygiene program has been very active in community-based dental education. This year's program incorporated a new initiative, the 2010 GC Pay it Forward Dinner. The event was inspired and spearheaded by Instructor Barbara Emert-Baldwin and raised over $600 to purchase food and meals for the less fortunate of the Williamsport, Pennsylvania, community.
"The inspiration for this idea came from a friend of 24 years," says Prof. Baldwin. "He was trying to save money to see his children, who happened to live in a different state. Unfortunately due to various reasons, in order to attempt to see his children, he had to ultimately choose to sleep in his car because he did not have enough money to stay in a hotel." When she found that his cell phone service had been terminated, she paid ahead on his bill so he could continue communication with his children. Later, when he attempted to repay her for her kindness, she refused to accept the repayment and encouraged him to "pay it forward."
After watching the movie of the same name, Prof. Baldwin was struck with an idea. She emailed her students an assignment to do the same and bring their thoughts to their next discussion regarding the upcoming community dental health project. She shared her friend's story with the class. "This day and age, no one should have to make those types of choices, and we are going to help others," she told her class. "We are going to pay it forward, Penn College dental hygiene style!"
Prof. Baldwin found that a local church held a dinner for the less fortunate the first Saturday of every month. "The students rallied their thoughts, their energy, and their monetary donations to get the project started," she said. "The church gave us a menu and items to purchase, and the students came up with their own ideas to add" including food sales, donations, and raffle for four New York Yankees game tickets.
"[The students] were concerned that we were providing this wonderful meal for dinner, but what happens when these people wake in the morning with no breakfast?" she recalls. "We therefore made bags with a bottle of water, an apple, a Nutrigrain bar, a pudding snack pack with a spoon ... and of course everyone received a full tube of toothpaste, a toothbrush, and several pieces of oral health education." The teamwork and interaction of the students that day was like nothing Prof. Baldwin had seen before.
Over 140 meals were served for dinner, and several students made up 20 meals and delivered them to homebound individuals.
Prof. Baldwin wasn't the only one touched by the event. "If you have instilled one thing in me, it would most definitely be respect," commented Ms. Stephanie Shattuck, a second-year dental hygiene student. "Respect and love for those people in this world that are less fortunate than I, and I promise you that I WILL pay it forward."
"Pay it forward was so inspirational, I'll be sure to keep it going and email you all my stories," said Ms. Candace Savacool, another second-year dental hygiene student.
"This was by far the most heartwarming, rewarding community event that I have dealt with thus far and as long as I am around, I will continue this event on a yearly basis," said Prof. Baldwin. "It will forever be known under my guidance as the 'GC Pay it Forward Dinner,' for those are my dear friend's initials. He will never know how he has changed my life and in turn helped me change others."
One anonymous comment written on a survey after the program summed it up for the community: "Everyone was so nice, they did a great job, and they made ME feel important."