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Dental students bring sunshine to community organizations

Students attending the American Student Dental Association District 2 Meeting in Buffalo last weekend volunteered at a variety of community organizations, including the Food Bank of Western York.

By MARCENE ROBINSON

Published September 17, 2015

“One thing distinct about Buffalo is how passionate the students are about outreach.”
Elizabeth Stanko, UB dental student and chair
American Student Dental Association District 2

Days before a morning of planned volunteering in the Buffalo community, Elizabeth Stanko learned that the weather report called for rain.

Stanko, a student in the School of Dental Medicine and community outreach chair for the American Student Dental Association (ASDA) District 2, had already gathered more than 170 students from five universities in two states to participate.

But no matter. The group, stocked with raincoats and umbrellas, loaded into more than 30 cars and travelled to 11 Buffalo community-oriented organizations to provide volunteer help and dental education.

Each year, one of the five universities in ASDA District 2 — one of 11 districts within the independent, student-run ASDA — hosts a conference that brings together students from UB, New York University, Columbia University, Rutgers University and Stony Brook University.

The conferences are viewed as an opportunity for the host university to showcase the aspect of dental care in which they excel.

As hosts of the 2015 ASDA District 2 Meeting, UB dental students decided to share what they do best: community outreach.

“One thing distinct about Buffalo is how passionate the students are about outreach,” says Stanko, also a member of Buffalo Outreach and Community Assistance (BOCA), a UB dental school club that organizes service activities for students.

“Through BOCA, we have a strong community service program for our students, but most dental schools don’t offer as many opportunities. Where they have five to 15 outreach programs in a year, we participate in just as many a month.”

Stanko worked with Jordan Telin, a UB dental student and ASDA District 2 trustee, and Chelsea Rajagopalan, a Rutgers dental student and co-community outreach chair, to organize the new volunteering component of the conference.

During the three-day conference, which ran Sept. 11-13, students spent Saturday morning visiting several Buffalo community agencies. Because of the weather, the group was forced to cancel six of their planned destinations — where activities were organized outside — lowering the total of organizations they visited from 17 to 11.

Some of the agencies they assisted include the Food Bank of Western York; Westminster Economic Development Initiative, which runs the West Side Bazaar; the Buffalo City Mission; and the Ronald McDonald House.

Students assisted the agencies with a range of activities, from serving food in soup kitchens to tending to plants in community gardens.

“Even a lot of the students from Buffalo had no idea that these organizations existed or how much they were needed in the community,” says Stanko.

The group also donated more than 1,500 oral health kits filled with toothbrushes, floss and other dental products to the organizations to provide to the community.

“We’re immensely proud of our students and what they accomplished,” says Joseph Zambon, interim dean of the School of Dental Medicine.

“They took this great meeting and thought, what else can we do? And they were able to give back to the community. That holds us true to our mission, not only here at the dental school as researchers and educators, but also to the university’s mission to support the community.”

In addition to their local efforts, several hundred UB Dental BOCA students participate in several annual mission trips that provide clinical services around the nation and globe.