The Columns

Smiles for Miles Brett Becker ’18 and the W&L Pre-Dental Club teamed up with Rockbridge Area Health Center to distribute dental supplies to more than 700 local children.

— by on April 28th, 2017

Volunteers, including Dr. Stu Fargiano of Rockbridge Area Health Center (in maroon shirt), Brett Becker ’18 (in navy T-shirt) and other members of W&L’s Pre-Dental Club, pack dental supplies into bags for distribution through the Backpack Program at the Campus Kitchen at W&L.

It’s hard not to smile in the presence of Brett Becker, a Washington and Lee University junior with an easygoing personality and a genuine enthusiasm for helping others. Now, the founder of W&L’s Pre-Dental Club is working to spread that goodwill to the local community at large.

Last month, Becker and the rest of the Pre-Dental Club helped distribute dental supplies to more than 700 children through the Backpack Program at the Campus Kitchen at Washington and Lee (CKWL). The project was a joint effort led by Becker and Dr. Stu Fargiano, dental director at the Rockbridge Area Health Center.

“I saw Campus Kitchen in the newspaper and Brett was volunteering here,” Fargiano said, “so that’s when we came up with the idea to pack the bags. It was both of us figuring out a neat way to make this happen.”

Rockbridge Area Health Center provides medical, dental and behavioral health care to citizens of Rockbridge County and surrounding jurisdictions, including to those who are Medicaid recipients or are uninsured. Its staff of 40 includes two dentists, one hygienist and four dental assistants, and it offers a sliding scale fee for patients who cannot afford dental care. In addition, RAHC has a mobile dental clinic that goes out to county and city schools.

Fargiano, who has worked with the Virginia Department of Health and the state Department of Corrections, said dental care contributes in countless ways to quality of life. Poor oral health can affect a person’s success in school, and ultimately in life. “It’s amazing how many people come here just to get their teeth fixed so they can go on a job interview,” he said.

The Backpack Program is an outreach effort that sends local kids home every weekend with a sack full of healthy snacks. The goal is to bridge the weekend food gap experienced by many children who are eligible for free or reduced lunches on school days. Students and employees at Washington and Lee, along with community volunteers, pack the bags and deliver them to schools on Thursdays.

The Campus Kitchen at Washington and Lee has been in the news several times over the past few months. The program recently turned 10 years old, hosted a successful 5th annual Souper Bowl fundraiser, and won two grants.

When Fargiano read about CKWL in a Rockbridge News-Gazette article, the seed of an idea was planted. He and Becker had met at the 2016 Rockbridge Bull and Oyster Festival, and they developed a friendship around their mutual interest in dentistry. Becker began volunteering at RAHC in January 2017, so Fargiano approached him about connecting with CKWL.

Fargiano also shared the idea with Susan Sheridan, CEO of the RAHC. She approved the request to order enough dental supplies for about 715 bags. That included toothbrushes, toothpaste and dental floss. The bags also contained a card for a new pediatrician at RAHC and a flyer for the health center.

Becker divided the supplies into individual plastic bags. “He was incredible,” Fargiano said. “He was here over four hours. We gave him the whole conference room, and by the time the day had gone by a bunch of other people had stopped what they were doing to help him.”

On March 29, Becker and Fargiano were joined by Dr. Fargiano’s wife, Christina; members of the Pre-Dental Club; and club advisor Fred LaRiviere, an associate professor of chemistry at W&L. The group met at the Campus Kitchen at Washington and Lee to place the dental kits inside the Backpack Program bags. The supplies were then distributed to students, along with their snacks for the weekend.

Whether he is volunteering at RAHC, helping out at a mobile dental clinic or interning with dentistry professionals, Becker said, he always believes strongly in the positive impact of a healthy smile. He said this project felt particularly satisfying because it was fairly easy to execute and will have an immediate effect on local kids.

“It is incredibly rewarding knowing that we can have such a positive impact on the local community’s oral hygiene,” he said.