Pay it forward
Community gives back to Haitian people in need
by Bradley Hartsell
On Aug. 23, Wheat Family Dental in Newnan is hosting its fifth year of Pay It Forward Dental Day, the last four of which have funded a dental-oriented mission trip to Haiti.
Wheat Family Dental – led by Dr. Leo Wheat, Dr. Steven Williams and Dr. Lisa Taylor – started Pay It Forward Dental Day in 2009 as a way of giving back to the community.
“We initiated a free dental day. With a lot of people caught in between government assistance, we let them have a day of getting a free cleaning, a free extraction,” said Wheat. “We did that the first year and it was great. The next year, we decided to go to Haiti for a mission trip. We got there and saw the great need for mission.”
After their first Haiti mission trip – Hope for Haiti – Wheat Family Dental knew it could offer the best of both worlds, both to their local community and also an impoverished nation. On Pay It Forward Dental Day, people are asked to give a minimum of $10 as a donation for Hope for Haiti.
“There’s such a disconnect with people not knowing the need in Haiti, and this is a way to allow people a way to provide to others,” said Wheat.
At just $10, people are still receiving cleanings and extractions at a highly discounted rate. According to Dr. Wheat, getting a tooth pulled can cost anywhere from $200 to $450, depending on a person’s insurance. Even a cleaning can be more than $100, but getting professional dental care for just $10 is not only a discount, it’s a chance to give to those in need. Dr. Wheat says as Wheat Family Dental continues their Hope for Haiti mission trip, the community is pitching in and giving so much more than he ever anticipated.
“Our patients have really grown into bringing things like children’s clothing and baby formula, knowing the Haiti trip is coming up,” Wheat said. “I didn’t expect them to do that, but it’s really turned into a nice community function. They’re bringing everything from books to food and just all kinds of things. What’s best, the people [in Haiti] really embrace us coming.”
The donations from Pay It Forward Dental Day – which only cover dental equipment, not traveling expenses – allow Wheat Family Dental to bring plenty of dental items with them.
Wheat recalled that in 2010, with the first Hope for Haiti event, he and his team expected need in the country – but upon getting there, the need far outweighed his expectations.
“It was far beyond where I could have ever imagined,” he said. “[The mission trip] was something that needed to be an ongoing thing. The need is so bad that we actually created a makeshift dental office underneath a mango tree. You’re speechless when you get there that people are living like this.”
Wheat says, not only does his team – usually about 15 people, including this year – give out toothbrushes and floss, as well as provide dental work, but they assess what other needs the people of Haiti need, whether it’s dental or otherwise.
“Last year, there was an orphanage at a standstill because their water collecting tank had a burst valve and it was $2,000 they needed to fix it,” he said. “Our dental team that was over there started making calls, and within two hours we had money for them to purchase that valve. The orphanage got back up and running.”
“They were so excited it was unbelievable,” Wheat said. “Now when we’re there, we look and see what some of the needs are at the orphanages there, so there’s always something to provide that they need.”
Though the Pay It Forward Dental Day idea started as a way to give back to Cowetans, it’s morphed into a helping ecosystem. Wheat Family Dental still provides its patients with a day of savings in dental care, while the patients then actively contribute, via donations, to a Haitian community in even more need of accessible dental care.
“Every year its something different, but Coweta really pulls together and shows up strong to touch lives, not only on the dental side, but in other ways as well,” said Wheat. “By having our community connect, Coweta County is providing some aid for those in need.” * * *
Wheat Family Dental is located at 42 Market Square Rd. in Newnan. Pay It Forward Dental Day is Saturday, Aug. 23 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 770-251-8145 or visit www.WheatFamilyDental.com .