It’s easy to smile with the Fairfax County nonprofit FACETS, whose services include providing dentures for its poor and homeless clients
By Jane Hess Collins
Monique loves her job as a sales clerk at a shoe store in one of the area’s most upscale outdoor malls. She rarely smiles when she’s on the job though, because she is missing several front teeth. As embarrassed as she is about her appearance, she tells kids that she lost them because she didn’t brush well enough. That’s technically not true, but Monique wants to scare them into a lifetime of good dental hygiene.
When I met Monique, though, she was grinning from ear to ear. FACETS, through its Homeless Healthcare Program (HHP), was taking her to the dentist to get her fitted for dentures.
That morning Bob Schon, the FACETS medical outreach coordinator, handed me the van keys and rode shotgun while I drove us to the Lamb Center. A daytime drop-in center in Fairfax County’s homeless, the Lamb Center gives the community’s poor and homeless a place to shower, change clothes and a host of other services. Monique and her husband Tyrone met us outside the center and climbed in the van for the trip to the Northern Virginia Dental Clinic, who provides dental assistance for the area’s indigent.
Ty went right to sleep on the back row of seats-fallout from working all night. Graciella, completely toothless, could not stop smiling. She had waited for this day for a long time. Kim and Victor, also scheduled for a denture fitting, were no-shows. Kim’s husband had been rushed to the emergency room the night before, and Victor, who lived in a tent, probably didn’t want to brave the thunderstorm.
Upon arriving at the dental center, we were all disappointed to learn that while they were getting their impressions that day, the dentures would have to wait for a few more weeks. Monique tried hard not to show her disappointment.
Schon was disappointed too. With his gentle, nonjudgmental demeanor, he helped establish the HHP and Northern Virginia Dental Clinic partnership. Some of his clients, who had their teeth extracted several years ago in anticipation of dentures, had been toothless for years when the denture program fell into an unforeseen (and thankfully temporary) bureaucratic abyss.
Nevertheless, Schon’s clients love him. “I love Bob to death,” Monique told me. When she lost her appetite three years ago after having several teeth pulled, Schon made sure she ate. Today she grumbled a little that her new dentures would leave a gap between her two front teeth, just like how she looked before her teeth were removed. I told her about Lauren Hutton, whose gap-toothed smile catapulted her to supermodel fame in the 70’s. That seemed to make her feel a little better.
Life was especially rough for Monique and Ty until they bought a car, which allowed Ty to drive to his construction jobs and saved them both a fortune in public transportation costs. As an added bonus, their car doubled as their home and they didn’t have to sleep outside anymore.
Monique saved enough money to buy the car after just one month at her sales job. “We may be homeless but we have a car to sleep in,” she told me proudly.
Today, however, brought more bad news. The car windows leaked, leaving them wet in their new home. They talked with Schon about help to repair the windows. Still, Monique is optimistic about her and Ty’s future. With both of them working now and a car to transport and shelter them, renting an apartment “is a matter of time,” Monique said.
FACETS needs volunteers to help with everything from client transportation to community gardening to basketball. For a complete list of their volunteer needs click here.
And what will Monique do when she finally gets her new set of teeth? “I can’t wait to smile!” she grinned. “I’m gonna take a picture and say ‘cheese!’”
Jane Hess Collins helps and encourages people to give back through her volunteering, writing, speaking, coaching and workshops. You can follow her other Get Out and Give Back volunteer stories on Facebook, Twitter and her website. If you’d like her to volunteer with your organization, contact her here.