A Fall Full of Service

A city clean-up, a blood drive, fundraisers, school visits, and screenings at a Special Olympics event were among the service activities that School of Dental Medicine students participated in during the fall season.

For students in the UConn School of Dental Medicine, this fall was full of service in the community.

“It is wonderful that our students have the opportunity to serve the community,” said Dr. Donna Paolella, associate dean for students and advisor for the UConn Chapter of the American Student Dental Association (ASDA).

Students volunteer at KNOX, INC. in Hartford (Sarah Hyman photo).

In October, students with ASDA teamed up with the Hartford nonprofit KNOX, Inc. to help spruce up the city.

For the past three years, student volunteers have been working with KNOX to plant a variety of plants in large planters to place throughout the city. This year, the 15 students planted a total of 179 large planters that were distributed to local businesses, parks, and city sidewalks.

Sarah Hyman, a second-year dental student and lead organizer for the service day, reflected positively on this year’s volunteering event. “It was a beautiful morning and we had a great turnout,” Hyman said. “This is our third time volunteering with KNOX and we hope to volunteer with them again this fall. We always enjoy getting to partner with such a dedicated organization.

“It was wonderful to see the members of ASDA working together with the members of the Greater Hartford Green Team to put together these planters for the city of Hartford.”

Students with ASDA host a successful blood drive (Tetiana Winiarskyj photo).

KNOX works to preserve Hartford’s green space, making it accessible to all. It currently maintains 21 community gardens to provide fresh produce to the community, educate others on environment and farming, and plants trees throughout the city.

In November, ASDA also hosted a blood drive with the American Red Cross. Earlier this year, the students hosted a successful blood drive, which prompted them to hold another this fall.

“There is a constant need for blood donations, especially in the wake of Hurricane Ian, so I am incredibly grateful to all the volunteers, donors, and Red Cross personnel who came together to make this blood drive so successful,” said Tetiana Winiarskyj, a third-year dental student and organizer of the blood drive. “I would not have been able to coordinate this drive without the help of the wellness committee and every ASDA member that volunteered alongside us!”

The students spent three months planning the drive and advertising to the UConn Health community. They were able to fill all the open donor spots and collect 40 units of blood, surpassing their goal of 33 units. This was the most that the students collected at an American Red Cross blood drive at UConn Health.

In addition to the blood drive, ASDA students are also teaming up with a few local restaurants to raise funds for Hurricane Ian relief. The fundraiser is still in progress.

Students simulate proper flossing techniques using playdough at Maria Sanchez Elementary School in Hartford (Nathalia Hernandez photo).

Also in November, students with the Student National Dental Association/ Hispanic Student Dental Association (SNDA/HSDA) went to Maria Sanchez Elementary School in Hartford with Dr. Sarita Arteaga, associate dean for students. Arteaga, along with a group of dental students, worked with 40 fourth-, fifth-, and first-graders on the importance of oral hygiene and visits to the dentist. The children were divided into their respective grades and participated in various activities like simulating proper flossing with playdough and model teeth.

Students visit a Head Start program in Meriden (Kolbe Laing photo).

“It is activities like is these that are imperative for children to begin to understand the importance of their teeth into their overall health,” said Nathalia Hernandez, a third-year dental student. “As these students gain more exposure and are able to practice this new knowledge physically and visually, they are able to not only apply it to their own life but also help relay this information to their family and at home activities.”

A few days after the elementary school visit,  SNDA/HSDA  visited younger children at a Head Start program in Meriden. The students demonstrated proper hygiene techniques with stuffed animals and other age-appropriate toys and aimed to inspire the children to pursue an interest in dentistry.

Students visit a Head Start program in Meriden (Kolbe Laing photo).

“These outreach events are important to the community as some of the children seen are being checked for their first time,” said third-year dental student Kolbe Laing. “This allows intervention and prophylactic measures to be taken before any lasting damage can be made. The events also allow our dental students to gain experience working with patients of different demographics and backgrounds.”

SNDA/HSDA also recently received a grant to visit Boys and Girls Clubs to continue to provide dental educational programs to children in central Connecticut. This week, the students visited the Boys and Girls Club in Hartford and facilitated several fun hands-on activities to teach 8-10 year old children about proper oral hygiene techniques and allow them to act as “dentists” and simulate a cavity-filling procedure. SNDA/HSDA students are hopeful that they will be able to continue to visit Boys and Girls Club programs, which may also include free dental screenings in the future.

SCDIG students participate in the 2022 Special Olympics Connecticut Holiday Classic (Barbara Shehata photo).

Lastly, in November, students in the Special Care Dentistry Interest Group (SCDIG) participated in the 2022 Special Olympics Connecticut Holiday Classic at Quinnipiac University, providing screenings to nearly 50 Special Olympics athletes. Students with SCDIG at UConn have a long history of involvement with  Special Olympics Connecticut and look forward to continue participating in Special Olympics events in the years to come.

“This was the highest number of athletes we have seen at a Special Olympics CT event post-COVID, so it was a unique opportunity for Healthy Athletes and our students to interact in such a non-traditional setting,” said Barbara Shehata, third-year dental student. “The turnout was very promising, and SCDIG is looking forward to participating in the upcoming  Special Olympics CT events in 2023!”