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Michele Penrose

Chair, ADA Foundation Give Kids A Smile Committee
Director of Global Professional Relations, Henry Schein Inc.

“Give Kids A Smile is a priority for Henry Schein. It’s the right thing to do. The number of children who go without oral health care is staggering.”-           

Michele Penrose, Henry Schein, Inc.

Organization through which your Give Kids A Smile program takes place: Henry Schein, Inc.

The duration of your involvement in the Give Kids A Smile program:
Henry Schein has served as GKAS's official professional products sponsor since the American Dental Association (ADA) launched the program in 2003 to help raise awareness of the critical need to expand access to oral health care for children in the U.S. Since the program's inception, Henry Schein, together with its supplier partners, has donated more than $14 million in oral health care products used to provide free oral health services for more than 5 million children. Personally, I’ve been involved with the Give Kids A Smile committee for the last 10 years serving in various capacities, including as Chair for about the last year. Give Kids A Smile has continued to be one of Henry Schein’s flagship philanthropic programs. It’s a priority to the company, with leadership and various Team Schein members taking part over the years in conjunction with our dental practice customers.

Why do you participate in Give Kids A Smile programs? Henry Schein's commitment to the Give Kids A Smile program grows deeper every year, and the generosity of our supplier partners strengthens our resolve to expand access to oral health care for underserved children. In recognition of the integral link between a person's oral health and their overall health, we will continue to stand with our partners in support of this program. By providing participating oral health professionals with the products needed to provide quality oral health care, we can ensure that each participating child is set on the path to a lifetime of bright and healthy smiles. On a personal level, Give Kids A Smile has become a passion for me, something that is part of my work responsibilities and is also a part of my personal and professional development—seeing the impact that GKAS has had in the lives of so many children, I’ve been so close to it for so long that it’s become something near and dear to my heart. Over the course of the last 10 years, I’ve worked closely with Give Kids A Smile and it is a priority.

From the Henry Schein, Inc. standpoint, we’re involved because we’re doing the right thing. We have grown our business on our mantra, which is “doing well by doing good.” It’s a priority for Henry Schein to bring together public and private partnerships that underscore the need to stop the silent epidemic of childhood caries in the U.S.

What would you say to other potential GKAS sponsors? In the course of the past 14 years, Henry Schein has worked with numerous vendor supplier partners that have joined in this journey; we assemble 3,000 kits, containing oral health care products donated by Henry Schein and the Company's supplier partners, to distribute before the annual Give Kids A Smile kickoff on the first Friday in February. The corporate sponsors who work side by side with us have found this to be a tremendous opportunity to help support volunteerism. We would encourage any company that has not been a sponsor of Give Kids A Smile to join forces with Henry Schein and the hundreds of other companies that have been involved over the years. It gives our industry an opportunity to be involved with organized dentistry and the academic community, and to serve communities where access to care is limited or doesn’t exist at all. It gives us a presence in those communities where children are often seeing a dentist for the very first time.

Why is the Give Kids A Smile program important? As I mentioned before, Henry Schein’s mantra is “doing well by doing good.” It’s important because it’s simply the right thing to do. In the U.S., the number of children who are unable to see a dentist or have any oral health care is staggering.  Without a program like this there would be thousands of children who may have gone unseen by a dentist and who may not have had the opportunity to get basic education about the importance of good oral health to overall health. When you think about the numbers, it’s mind-boggling. Knowing that on the first Friday of every February and throughout the year, children and their families are so positively impacted by this program—I can’t imagine what our health landscape would be without this program.

Please tell us a story about the importance of a program like Give Kids A Smile to a child in need. Actually, I was a Registered Nurse earlier in my career. When I got out of school I worked at a children’s hospital in Detroit. I worked on an infectious disease floor. That floor took everything from infants to teenagers, and I can remember to this day one particular a boy who came in with cellulitis, a skin condition that can get progressively worse. He was about three years old—old enough to toddle around, and with the biggest smile. He lost both of his hands as a result of the cellulitis. Although that event wasn’t directly related to Give Kids A Smile, it’s the basis for my passion for helping kids get early intervention for critical health issues.

The Give Kids A Smile program has a profound effect on the kids, but also on the people who volunteer. It’s hard to describe the emotional impact of a day when you’re volunteering and working side by side with dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, and others who help provide care to these kids until you experience it. When I’m at an event, I’m moved to tears. Participating in an event is so moving when you see the children arriving and getting off the bus—some are laughing and some are scared to death—but as you watch them go through the check-in and the activities, and when they’re in the dental chair, you know their lives will be changed in some small or big way that day.