It was a simple request that had a domino effect on my career arc at the MDA. I had been with the MDA all of five months when the inaugural MOMOM was held in Springfield in September 2011. I knew nothing of the events leading up to this; I only knew it was a staff-supported event so I dutifully tagged along. During set up day, I marveled at the camaraderie of the local dentists under the leadership of Drs. Darren and Sarah Mahaffey. Eager to do my share, I jumped when Darren asked me to help be an outside line leader communicating information with the patients. How hard could that be? (At that point, there were only two girls camped out in line.) Think again.
When we rolled up at 4 a.m. on MOMOM’s first-ever clinic day, it was mayhem in the parking lot, and the patient line twisted and turned for a seemingly endless distance. There was no time for a think tank on possible options. It was all hands on deck and a “ready or not, here we go” feeling. That adrenaline rush has stayed with me all this time. By grace and good fortune, everything fell into place for a successful clinic. I walked the line, chatting with patients, putting names and stories together. I noticed the emotional gamut ran from desperation, to wait all night to hope that they will be seen, to uncertainty about the process, and finally, to an eruption of gratitude as they left the clinic smiling like never before. This transformation—both on a large scale and an individual level—struck me, and I knew I wanted to be a part of this going forward. Little did I know the dental volunteers inside were feeling the same way.
My interest in MOMOM was now hot but my education was just beginning. I was appointed an MDA staff liaison for the second clinic in Cape Girardeau. In the months prior to May 2013, I made several trips for leadership meetings and learned a lot about fundraising, press efforts, recruiting, supplies, meals, and much more. What I remember most from that clinic was, again, the patients. They waited calmly in the rain and came from such long distances just to have a tooth pulled. And the volunteer appreciation dinner featured Dr. Ross Bennett’s band and dancing.
By the time the third clinic rolled around in St. Louis of May 2014, my title was now Foundation and Outreach Director, and MOMOM was a full-on gig for me. We learned how tiring it can be to host a clinic on two levels, and everyone remembers the ice sculptures in hospitality.
When MOMOM 4 occurred in Columbia in July 2015, our big hurdle was how to air condition a 60,000 square foot building. After some missteps, we got it working and had another wonderful clinic.
Our most recent clinic in Independence in August 2016 was a great local success and featured the debut of our beefed-up x-ray area. And now … it’s just a scant nine months until we fire up the clinic for the sixth time. I wonder what memories will be made in Joplin in June 2017?
If I can compare the institutional growth of MOMOM to that of a child, it’s right on track. The baby that was born in 2011 to rave reviews has steadily grown into a bright adorable kid. It feels healthy and full of energy and promise. It’s far from perfect, but there’s fond affection for it from a large and growing volunteer and sponsor base. And it always makes you proud to see your kid helping others.
I love MOMOM for many reasons. It’s a joy to work with passionate local leaders in new locations each year. It’s fun trying to figure out this gigantic puzzle with so many moving pieces. It’s humbling to see how much effort and kindness is exhibited by our volunteers. It’s heartwarming to see the larger dental community from assistants to dentists to techs and vendors work together on a generous goal, unconcerned about who gets the credit. It’s still an adrenaline rush to throw all those volunteers and patients together for two days and problem solve on the fly. How it ever comes together and works is a little bit mystifying. But it’s this last reason that keeps me going through the chaos and weariness and endless details: The smiles and gratitude of the patients who marvel at the unity, kindness, and expertise of strangers when they are down on their luck. It’s such a tangible gift that you can give your fellow man.
This article is merely a pause at the 5 year mark for me, on behalf of the MDA, its Foundation and MOMOM, to look back with gratitude. I could never fully list and pay tribute to all those that have loaned their heart and talent to make MOMOM a success. I thank you all, and I know you have your own memories. Let’s keep making memories and serving our neighbor and providing those smiles.
This article first appeared in the September/October 2016 issue of the MDA Focus magazine. Contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about MOMOM, see images, a recap video and more, visit www.MOMOM.org. Click here to see a great visual of the past five years of MOMOM!