Dee Scott couldn’t afford the cost of a dentist for the twin 8-year-old girls she was raising with her husband in Crestview, Fla.—and she was feeling desperate. When she learned the girls, Lakesha and Nevaeh Marion, had never been to the dentist, she knew she had to do something. (Scott had become a legal guardian after their father, a single parent who is her husband’s brother, could no longer care for them.)
While searching the Internet, Scott found a place that would change all of their lives: The Children’s Volunteer Health Network. “The girls were complaining about their mouth,” she said. “I didn’t realize how severe the issues were, but I had been praying for some way to pay for the appointment.”
Thankfully, CVHN was there to get the girls free dental care and fill eight to 10 cavities in each girl’s mouth. CVHN, founded by Tricia Carlisle-Northcutt, facilitates free, immediate access to medical, dental, and mental health care to Walton and Okaloosa County, Fla., children who are unable to access health services because they are uninsured or underinsured.
Finding CVHN meant that the twins no longer had to suffer from untreated medical or dental issues. “I already scheduled their next cleanings. CVHN was a godsend for us,” says Scott.
CVHN started all because of a young boy, Tyler. After meeting Tyler at her church’s outreach program nine years ago, Carlisle-Northcutt knew she had to get him help for his crooked teeth. “Kids were calling him names, like Monster Mouth,” she says. “He was always in trouble, and I worried that his bad behavior due to being bullied would escalate as he got older. If I could get his teeth fixed, kids might stop making fun of him,” says Carlisle-Northcutt. It worked. Tyler, now 20, graduated from high school and is now in the military.
Carlisle-Northcutt founded CVHN in 2005, and the program quickly blossomed. It has grown from three volunteer providers to a health care referral program that now includes 90 volunteer providers, a dental bus that visits 10 area schools, and a three-chair dental clinic, where full-time staff perform more invasive, restorative treatments. While CVHN started with a focus on dental procedures, the group also offers referrals to medical care providers who have performed procedures ranging from treating ear infections to heart surgery. Non-dental services now account for some 20 percent of CVHN’s caseload.
“I always thought, ‘Start with your biggest dream and it will come true.’ All that I wished for in the past few years concerning CVHN has transpired,” says Carlisle-Northcutt, who was named a REALTOR® Good Neighbor Awards honorable mention in 2007.
“Tricia had this vision, and her passion has helped her get people involved in a huge capacity,” says Zach Billingsley, CVHN executive director. “People quickly jump on board because of her vision.”
CVHN has had a broad impact on the health care needs of area children. “Last year we treated 796 kids on the dental bus, 330 kids in the dental clinic, and provided 123 kids access to other volunteer providers, resulting in more than $683,000 worth of free services, including medical, dental, vision, and mental health care,” Carlisle says. “Anything an underprivileged school-age child needs, we either help pay for or get it donated.” Now in its ninth year, CVHN has helped more than 7,000 children through 50,000 procedures with a value of about $3.7 million.
One big challenge, says Carlisle-Northcutt, was transportation. For many parents, getting the children to the appointments can be difficult. “We have volunteers who transport the child from school to the doctor or dentist,” she says. “We also work though Publix to help these families get free or inexpensive prescriptions. Our ultimate goal is to keep these children healthy and in school.”
Because CVHN is privately funded, the organization relies heavily on individual and corporate donations. “We call them our angels,” says Carlisle-Northcutt. “About 95 cents of every dollar we bring in goes to the children. We have no debt and raise money through several events throughout the year,” she says. CVHN is working in partnership with the United Way and has five signature fundraisers, such as a celebrity BBQ cook-off and a playhouse auction. Most of the network’s Circle of 100, those committed to giving $1,000 per year, are real estate professionals, she says.
While Carlisle-Northcutt has stepped away from her administrative role, she remains active as a fundraiser and program ambassador. “I’m working on getting money for a second dental bus as the need is so great,” she says.
Carlisle-Northcutt says she’s proud to have built an organization that can go on without her. “We’ve gone through a journey. It’s like birthing a baby and letting that child go off to college. I’ll phase out eventually, but I want it always to be its own strong foundation—that any one person could walk in there and do the job,” she says.
For twins Lakesha and Nevaeh, and thousands of other children receiving desperately needed health care, Carlise-Northcutt’s recognition of a critical community need will pay huge dividends for years to come.