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Choose Kindness and Caring

Published in ChicagoNow, November 25, 2013 (Photo: José M. Osorio for Chicago Dental Society)

Thanksgiving feels like the right time of year to tell this story. It happened at the senior center in my community. As I pulled into the strangely busy parking lot, heading for my early morning session with a personal trainer, I noticed the center was unusually crowded with people who were not normally there. Then I saw the sign “free dental check-ups.” The line leading to the room for the check-ups snaked around the building.

I asked the woman at the check-in table, which had not yet opened, how many people they could accommodate between their hours of 9:00 to 5:00. “About sixty,” she replied. I noted that there were far more than that number already in line and she shared that the first people had come as early as 3:00 a.m. and waited outside until the building opened.

The people in line were quiet, orderly, and mainly older people of color. Mixed in were a few young moms with toddlers. They chatted with one another, read books, or played with their young children. Clearly, if they were lucky enough to get in today, they were in for a long wait. These are just a sampling of the people in my community who cannot afford dental care.

Their plight made me feel grateful that I could afford to see my dentist twice a year, even though the charges for those visits have crept up to being barely affordable. At least I can choose to bypass an oral cancer screening or special x-ray and still have healthy teeth and gums. But here were my neighbors who would have to wait up to eight hours for the basic care most of us take for granted.

And here’s the part that made me both upset and depressed. Some of the “regulars” who come to the center to exercise and some of the trainers who supervise the exercise were upset that the people waiting for free dental care were “in the way.” Yes, the halls were crowded and some regular activities had to be moved to free up a room for the screenings. Yes, people were coming into exercise classes thinking they were the place to check in. Yes, the lobby where people like to hang out was more crowded and noisy than normal.

Rather than feeling annoyed, however, I wish the complaining “regulars” felt more accepting, understanding, and appreciative of the fact that they did not have to spend hours in that line. And I have to believe people should be angry that, as we approach Thanksgiving, in the midst of plenty, there are many in our community who struggle to meet their basic needs.

The Salvation Army is running a commercial this holiday season that says, “Millions of Americans have the heart to make a difference.” At Cherry Preschool, which I founded and directed, we taught children and parents alike, “creating a caring community starts here.” In the spirit of Thanksgiving, let’s choose kindness and caring over irritation and looking away when people are “in the way.”


by Laurie Levy
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