There’s a clinic that’s been operated by Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry faculty and students since the 1980s that’s a bit more than your everyday commute from the downtown campus.
It’s near Clark’s Town, a farming community in Jamaica. Since 1986, the students and doctors have been traveling to a sugar cane plantation and to its environs to provide free dental care to those in need.
The three trips this October and November will mark the 30th anniversary for the Jamaica Project, according to Dr. Tiffany Williams, an assistant professor in pediatric dentistry and an advisor to the students in the project.
There are fourth-year students, faculty members and dental hygiene students providing their services. They do a bit of everything, including fillings, extractions, cleanings and educational work.
It’s a labor of love for all involved.
“Although we sweated through long days in a tiny clinic with minimal air flow, it was completely worth it and I would do it again in a heartbeat,” says Amy Reichert, a May graduate of the dental school and a leader in a 2015 Jamaica Project trip. “We were able to gain a great
amount of technical experience providing free extractions, fillings and cleanings. The faculty that travel with us are great teachers, and I will keep the clinical knowledge that I learned with me for the rest of my professional career.”
The sugar cane facility that has played host to the clinic has closed this year, but the project still has use of the clinic, so the closing should not affect their work, Williams says.
The Jamaica Project has its roots in a 1984 mission trip to the island undertaken by Mario Saravia, a 1982 VCU graduate and a pediatric dentistry faculty member at the school. He saw a need for a dental clinic, so he took a group of students there in 1986. The 13 students and faculty on that two-week trip treated 1,200 Jamaicans, according to VCU.
“Since then, we’ve continued the tradition,” Williams says.
The most pressing need of the patients seen there are extractions, since many of the patients have teeth beyond salvaging, Williams says. They also do some restorative work, fillings, where they can, and some cleaning. There’s always at least one hygiene student with a group.
About 25 students participate each year, about eight per weeklong trip. There are also four or five faculty members along for each session, and one hygienist. Each group takes care of about 1,100 patients and performs more than 3,000 procedures.
For the last two years, the project has also included a “Seal Team” that travels to various primary schools to provide dental sealant treatments to 6-year-olds to prevent tooth decay, Williams says.
Each student raises money to help pay for their travel and accommodations, supplies and spending money. Fundraisers include working with local restaurants, a chili cookoff in the dental school and seeking donations from local businesses. There’s also the Robert F. Barnes Jamaica Fund, which helps pay for dental equipment. Its namesake served as faculty advisor for the project for 16 years.
Williams assumed duties as faculty coordinator for the project when Barnes retired. This is her fifth year with the project and she loves what she does, especially getting to know the patients.
“It’s been a great opportunity,” she says. “Even if they aren’t getting dental work, everybody hangs out around the community clinic. It’s amazing to see they are so interested in what we do.”
Reichert says the project provides an expansion of cultural horizons to the students. The dentists-in-training get an intimate introduction to Jamaica, and get to truly know its people.
“The experience also gave me a new perspective on vacationing,” says Reichert. “The fact that
we were able to spend a week in a house on the gorgeous beaches of Jamaica is amazing. But I don't think that I would have enjoyed or appreciated it as much as I did had I not worked tirelessly all day to give back to the people that were sharing their beautiful country with me. I don't think that I will ever be able to take another vacation without giving back in some way, and I think that's the greatest takeaway for me.”
Roll Out, Roll Out
Are you up for a midweek, family-friendly bicycle excursion with a bit of a surprise?
BreakawayRVA has organized a ride for the evening of Thursday, May 26, in which you’ll know where to start, but where you’ll end up is a secret.
It’s sort of a Richmond version of a “Magical Mystery Tour” on two wheels instead of a psychedelic bus.
There will be six starting points, and you sign up for the start site that’s most convenient to you and best fits your comfort zone: Church Hill (1.5 miles, 7 p.m. start), Jackson Ward (2 miles, 6:45 p.m. start), Manchester (2 miles, 7 p.m. start), Museum District (4 miles, 6:30 p.m. start), North Side (3 miles, 6:30 p.m. start) or South Side (5 miles, 6:30 p.m. start).
You’ll be notified of the exact starting location five hours before the scheduled start of the ride. All routes converge into a joint ride to one destination, but you won’t know the site until you get there. There’s a reward at ride’s end, which could be food or beer, music or a speaker, but again, it’s a surprise.
Routes will be accessible to all skill levels. It’s the first in a series of monthly rides.
BreakawayRVA was founded earlier this year by Brian Beard, Trevor Dickerson, Daniel Klein, Tangee Moore, Andrew Lester, Sydney Lester and Josh Son. They started meeting and planning in October.
We had an email chat with some of the event organizers. Here’s an edited version of what they had to say:
Richmond magazine: So, how did you guys get together on this, and what’s the inspiration behind the creation of BreakawayRVA?
Dickerson: Breakaway RVA came about after two of the founders, Andrew and Sydney Lester, attended a similar event in Denver. The event had a decidedly party atmosphere with hundreds of people coming out to bike, many in costumes (which is encouraged) and riding bicycles of all kinds with all number of wheels, and decorated with lights or streamers.
Riding en masse with hundreds of other bikers was a surreal experience.
Shortly after this trip, Richmond got bike fever with the UCI bike race and the Lesters pulled in a small group to start something like Denver Cruisers, but with an RVA twist.
While Richmond is starting to become more bike friendly, we believe that a large part of drivers adjusting to bikers requires that bikers are out and on the road. We wanted to do something fun to increase bike awareness and empower people to feel comfortable while safely riding their bikes.
RM: Why a “Magical Mystery Tour” sort of format?
Dickerson: There are a ton of bike groups that do set rides, especially in Richmond, and many are tailored to specific interests: New riders, mountain bikes, women mountain bikers, road bikers, long rides, etc. We wanted to do something a little bit different that would encourage people of all bike abilities to come out for each event knowing the end location/event would be different, and fun, every time.
The secret end location is borrowed from Denver Cruisers, but our event is very Richmond: It's family friendly, has shorter routes, we review bike safety at the start of each route, will be sharing the history of routes and educating and exposing folks to the many different bike friendly areas around Richmond.
RM: About how long will the rides take?
Dickerson: Each route will take 30 to 45 minutes. None of the routes are hard, but we've included simple route descriptions to help people decide which ride they want to take. Each route will also have 1 to 2 community volunteers who will be leading the groups as they ride their routes.
RM: Will these all be weekday evening rides, or will you change up the dates and times? Will you continue into the winter with the same schedule?
Dickerson: For our first event, we chose a date that worked for us and ran with it. We want to have a post-event survey to gauge interest in other dates/times for the event and are very open about changing it up. Initially, we planned to host the rides from about April to October of each year, but continuing into the winter would depend on weather and the number of people who would be up to ride!
RM: Are there any other groups like this that you’re aware of?
Dickerson: There are lots of bike groups that offer rides in Richmond: RABA, Critical Mass, etc. and other similar efforts with their own twists around the globe — Denver Cruisers in Denver, Slow Roll in Detroit and others.
RM: How about you, how long have you been riding?
Lesters: We have mountain bikes and love taking on the trails around Richmond. We are decidedly casual road/city bikers, but are always amazed at how easy it is to bike Richmond when we get out on the road.
Beard: I ride my road bike nearly every day as a mode of transport, and have been doing so for nearly three years.
Dickerson: I ride my hybrid road bike both recreationally around Richmond’s roadways and trails as well as to work at least a couple times a week.
Stronger Through Trials
Hardships make you hardier.
Virginia Commonwealth University researchers have done the science to confirm the adage.
Their study involved patients with neurological illnesses and determined that widows and widowers were happier than patients in the study population who were married. The study is in the May issue of the journal Healthy Aging Research. It “replicates and extends” the findings of a 2013 VCU-led study in which VCU School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry professor James B. Wade served as principal investigator, according to a release.
The takeaway: “Everybody is going to experience their own challenges and this study shows that being confronted with adversity changes you,” Wade says. “You adapt and grow stronger so the next time something terrible happens, you have new strategies to deal with it and cope better.”