Impact Your Health Comes to Portland

Little Maria* looked up into the dentist’s face from the chair. At the tender age of 4, she already had six cavities. The pediatric dental team filled Maria’s six cavities.

She was just one of more than 800 people who flocked to the gym of Portland Adventist Academy for the two-day Impact Your Health–Portland clinic designed to provide free medical, dental and vision assistance to those in need. 

Sponsored by the Oregon Conference, ASI (Adventist-laymen's Services and Industries) Northwest and local churches, the event saw temperatures reach well into the 90s on Friday. Nevertheless, volunteers arrived at 6 a.m. Friday morning and worked through the heat doing everything from dental X-rays and tooth extractions to vision exams, haircuts, lifestyle counseling and even foot-washing. Child care was also available so parents could have procedures done without worrying about their children. 

By 8:30 a.m. the school was abuzz as people came through registration, where volunteers took down each person’s information and needs. Once registered, one of the many florescent green-shirted volunteers would escort the person to their first stop.The biggest needs were dental, eye and medical care. 

There were four eye exam stations and, if needed, the opportunity to obtain a free pair of glasses, to be delivered to an Adventist church near each patient. A patient named Jackie said, “I’m so excited because my mom and I get to have our eyes checked, and we can’t afford to go into an eye clinic.” 

Jim* was found waiting to see a dentist. “I’ve had a tooth hurting for a long time now and just had it pulled, so hopefully the pain will go away.” Retired dentist Dennis Nicola, who now teaches dentistry at a local teaching hospitals, recruited two other dental teachers and 12 dental students to help at the event as well. Many of the volunteers he brought aren’t Adventist but share an interest in helping others. 

Nicola sees projects like Impact Your Health as ways he can give back to the community, and he sees his students continuing to give to the future. He demonstrates compassion to his students and is amazed at the gratitude the patients express.

Arnold Petersen was the medical director for the Impact Your Health–Portland event and is excited about the connection between this event and what Portland Adventist Community Services (PACS) provides at their ongoing free health clinic. Petersen says, “It’s our duty to do events such as these. We can’t reach these people in our clinics because they can’t afford it, so they don’t come. Also, when you do free clinics like this you never know what you’re going to see. It’s like doing missionary work in the bush.”

Buffy Piper works for a local hospital. When asked why she decided to be part of Impact Your Health–Portland, she said, “I’ve never done anything like this and don’t think I could go do it in the bush, so I thought I would give this a try. I had a great time.”

Brandon Dawson, a pharmacist, came from Vancouver, Wash., where he attends the Seventh-day Adventist Community Church of Vancouver. He heard about the event and said he had to be a part of it. They don’t distribute pharmaceuticals at this kind of event, so he just came to see how he could help.

He sat with patients while they waited to be seen by a physician and talked with them about the medications they were on. He was able to facilitate the conversation between the patient and doctor. Dawson said he “hope[s] this event becomes an annual deal.”

Jackie Whitt became an Adventist about three years ago while she was in prison. Through prison ministries, Whitt became the first in her low-income family to become a Adventist. A couple of weeks ago, Whitt heard about the Impact Your Health event through one of her local Adventist church members and was to be able to invite her mom to the event. Her mom was amazed the church Whitt was involved with would do something like this for free for the community.

After 28 surgeries and $12 million dollars of medical bills from being hit by a truck, Elijah* can’t afford other medical needs. He said, “It’s a godsend, at the right time in my life. I’m here today because God keeps me alive.”

Emily, a Portland Adventist Academy student helping with massages, said, “I want to make a difference … one person at a time.”

Joan Fuller,* a loving grandmother, attends Portland's Tabernacle Church and has been feeding the homeless at O’Bryant Square in downtown Portland. One Sunday morning she was flipping French toast at the square when her eyes met the eyes of Sole. “We talk every time we see each other there,” Fuller says. “I invited him to come to Impact Your Health so he could get some care.”

Did you catch that? She became his friend and then personally invited him. This is why we do what we do.

Like lifestyle counselor Jeanne Norris said, “Hope is what we’re all about here. We’re here to give hope.”

*Names have been changed.

Featured in: November 2016