Veterans at Roosevelt University to offer thanks with a smile to local dentist
Desert Storm veteran Michelle Smith received dental implants. Tyron Hampton, a U.S. marine and Gulf War veteran, got braces. One of their compatriots, veteran Michael Spears (pictured above with Dr. Robin Gay and her staff at Manus Health Systems) was fitted for dentures. Another, U.S. Army veteran Clifton Boone had a number of his teeth overhauled in order to improve his smile. Still another, Vietnam-era veteran Melvin Bridgmon, went from having only five lower teeth to sporting a full set, upper and lower.
Now these five veterans, all affiliated with the Veterans Upward Bound (VUB) program at Roosevelt University, are about to give thanks with a smile to the Chicago dentists who gave them a gift that is literally changing their lives for the better.
“Every time I think about it, I cry. It is truly a miracle,” said Smith (pictured below), a veteran and assistant director of academic affairs for VUB at Roosevelt where she works with Chicago-area veterans brushing up on the reading, writing, computer and math skills they will need to be successful in college.
One of the five VUB veterans who applied and qualified for thousands of dollars of dentistry through the program offered by Chicago’s Manus Health Systems, Smith had no dental insurance coverage or major dental work for nearly 20 years after returning from Desert Storm. Currently in the process of receiving five free dental implants, which she estimates could cost as much as $40,000, Smith will join fellow veterans in personally thanking their dentists at a thank-you reception being held at 5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20 at Roosevelt University, 18 S. Michigan Ave., Room 700.
“I never could have afforded this kind of dental work,” added Smith, who believes the implants set in place of molars on both sides of her jaw will make chewing food easier and will restore her confidence in teaching adult learners in Roosevelt’s VUB program.
“It’s done a world of difference for me already. I can laugh and smile and talk to my students without feeling self-conscious,” said Smith, who is nearing the stage in the dental-implant process in which permanent crowns will be placed atop the implant posts.
Smith’s dentist is Dr. Robin Gay, the clinical director at Manus Health Systems who spearheaded the project. “We found that it isn’t always easy for our veterans, while they are in the service, to pursue dental care unless it is an emergency,” said Gay. She will gather with her team of dental professionals at Roosevelt for a meet-and-greet with veterans who are expected to give testimonials on the difference that recent dental work has made in their lives.
“We learned along the way that many of our veterans don’t have the benefits or the resources they need to take proper care of their teeth once they come home. It’s been truly rewarding to be able to give something back to those who gave so much to their country,” Gay said.
One of the veterans treated, Bridgmon (pictured at left), lost most of his teeth after being beaten up and wrongly accused of theft by a group of men in Chicago in 1999. Bridgmon, who has been homeless and currently runs a ministry helping Chicago's homeless, used to be embarrassed by his appearance and avoided talking with people. Since receiving full and partial dental plates at Manus, Bridgmon has spoken publically about the plight of the homeless during recent Veteran’s Day and Catholic Charities events. A VUB adult learner for five years, Bridgmon currently is a student at Olive Harvey College.
“What they have done for me is transformational,” added Hampton, a veteran who endured embarrassment and lack of confidence for most of his life due to severe crowing of both his upper and lower teeth.
Entering the VUB program at Roosevelt several years ago, where he brushed up on college skills, Hampton went on to become a Roosevelt University student, recently receiving a bachelor’s degree in hospitality and tourism management from the University.
“I want to get into the hospitality industry and there is nothing like greeting your customers with a smile,” said Hampton, who currently wears braces provided pro-bono through Manus and the program.
“I’ve definitely been given an opportunity by these dentists and with my Roosevelt University education to make a different kind of presentation to the world,” Hampton said. “I’m truly appreciative and gratified that I can finally go out into the world with an education and a smile,” he said.