The 2007 Poudre School District year was well underway. I remember it well. Project Smile had just conducted their first dental screening at Irish Elementary School. There were lots of level 1 needs that were made apparent. These were students who had seven to nine “holes” in their little mouths and were most likely, living in pain each day. Help was on the way. Project Smile made sure of that. Then came a little girl, enrolled late, she had come from Mexico and had never been in school. She cried each day. I thought it was due to her lack of English and her adjustment to the rigors of first grade life. But little did I know that this child, sitting in my classroom each day, was in severe pain due to her dental issues. She never let on. Then, one day, in confidence, her mother told me the horrific ordeals this girl had suffered before coming to us. I reassured the mom, that Project Smile would soon conduct a follow-up screening and she would receive the treatment that was desperately needed. Mom sobbed with joy. Fast forward to 2017-2018 school year and this young woman is a high achieving PSD student well on her way to many successes.
Project Smile is a non-profit 501(c) 3 organization which initially grew out of a partnership between the North Fort Collins Business Association and Irish Elementary School. The program provides an opportunity for area businesses, organizations and individuals, through donations, to provide dental care for those in serious need. The program continues to grow and reach many in the Poudre School District. Additionally, Project Smile now provides needed vision care through a partnership with the Fort Collins Lions Club.
What started as a small effort to help children at one school has grown into a community-wide program that strives to assist all PSD students. During the 2014/2015 school year, Project Smile screened 1,229 children for dental needs at 7 different schools and provided additional follow-up services to over 250 of those kiddos.
Our goal is to eventually provide services for every child in Poudre School District in need of treatment. Studies have proven that proper dental care eliminates tooth aches which can lead to lack of focus, decreased learning and hunger during a child’s lifetime. We want to eliminate the root cause of this pain by providing essential dental care to children who don’t otherwise have access without Project Smile. Vision and learning are intimately related. Experts indicate that roughly 80 percent of what a child learns in school is information that is presented visually. Good vision is essential for students of all ages to reach their full academic potential.
Project Smile Operations Coordinator, Irish Elementary School Teacher, Retired