“A healthy, happy smile on a child is a new beginning in life!" - Joan Allen
Executive Director, Give Kids A Smile - St. Louis, 2005-2017
Joan Allen, B.S., M.A., the first executive director of Give Kids A Smile – St. Louis, passed away in March, 2017. She will be greatly missed.
Under Joan’s leadership, GKAS – St. Louis conducted GKAS free dental clinics, Tiny Smiles clinics, and expanded dental services for children in volunteer Smile Factories offices which have served thousands of area children with millions of dollars of free comprehensive dental care and related services.
Mrs. Allen received her BS from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and her MA from the University of Missouri. Her expertise as a retired business educator and vocational coordinator with 30 years of experience in a school district in which over 85% of the children were at or below the poverty level, further prepared her for the logistical and personal needs of the underserved children and their families. Joan Allen believed that providing comprehensive dental care for children while educating the kids and their caregivers will “slow the tide” of dental disease for all family members.
Following are experts from a 2014 interview with Joan.
Tell me a little about yourself and your role at Give Kids A Smile.
Hello—I am Joan Allen, the Executive Director of Give Kids A Smile. After 30 years as a high school business teacher and district vocational coordinator, I retired. I quickly began volunteering my time. One of my first opportunities was at a GKAS free dental clinic. As they were looking for their first employee, I was asked to apply. Now almost 10 years later, I have a new career--in the not-for-profit and dental care areas! Who would have guessed?
I wanted to continue my work with kids. The founders of Give Kids A Smile had just received a “seed grant” to build the infrastructure of this nonprofit. They needed someone with business skills who could coordinate the various components of the community outreach and the GKAS organization with its wide variety of volunteers, who worked with at-risk children and their families, who could build an infrastructure for the organization, who understood fundraising and grant writing, and who was willing to work in partnership with local professional and corporate business organizations. I am proud to say that we have accomplished that and more over the 10 years that I have led the organization.
As a wife, mother, and grandmother, I certainly know the value of a person’s health needs, financial limitations, access to care restrictions, and family choices that must be addressed. That has helped me work with families in chaos who are dealing with children who are suffering the pain and ridicule of dental disease. I am proud to say that since the beginning of Give Kids A Smile in 2002, we have given free dental and related services to nearly 30,000 children and oral health education to over 4,700 adults in the St. Louis region, totaling in the amount of over $8 million.
Give Kids A Smile began in St. Louis and is now the national community outreach program for the American Dental Association* … Our free dental clinic for impoverished and under-served children ages 1 through 14 is held in October and February of each year. At our October event, we are the ADA national trainers for the GKAS Leadership Development Institute. Leaders from across the nation are given the opportunity to work and train with the Give Kids A Smile staff and volunteers. I lead that training institute and am proud to say that I still teach—just in a new environment!
Why do you feel your mission is important?
As a teacher, I saw what dental pain and ridicule could do to a child’s ability to learn and their self esteem. We have had grandparents call us in desperation because a toddler grandchild could not eat due to the pain of dental disease. This is life-threatening and has to be addressed quickly.
School nurses and medical emergency rooms do not have the means to repair dental issues for children. We can make a huge change in a child’s life by making these restorations, teaching them how to prevent dental disease through proper care so they never have to suffer again! No child can concentrate and learn at school when they are in dental pain. It should never happen.
Then there are the self-esteem issues. Many a child has left our clinic with their parent “crying in delight” because we have repaired broken teeth and given their child a happy smile. No longer would the “bullies” at school make fun of the child’s broken smile. In fact, many of the children will no longer cover their mouths when smiling. They now have a smile that they can be proud to use!
Anything else you’d like us to know?
I have seen kids' lives change by their visit to our clinic. We have had 25 clinics since 2002. Now some of our patients have grown up and are coming back to us as volunteers! How exciting is it to see kids giving back the joy that they received.
A healthy, happy smile on a child is a new beginning in life!
Dr. Jeff Dalin and Joan Allen are surrounded by tooth fairies during a Give Kids A Smile-St. Louis event.
Inteview with Joan Allen courtesy of the Goedeker’s Home Life blog. Used with permission.
* Give Kids A Smile is now a program of the ADA Foundation.