Family’s Global Volunteer Enterprise Puts Better Oral Care into the Hands of Those in Need
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, created by the American Dental Association to raise awareness about the importance of oral health. One volunteer family has found a simple, yet meaningful way to help others – both abroad and nationally – who live without access to basic oral care. Learn about today’s Daily Point of Light Award honorees and why their volunteer work has people smiling all over the globe.
We stand over the sink every day and rarely give it a second thought: caring for our teeth is the hygienic ritual that most Americans could easily take for granted their entire lives. In our land of plenty, new toothbrushes and minty fresh tubes of toothpaste are only as far away as the nearest convenience store.
But one family in Woodcliff Lake, NJ has a completely different perspective on the impact a toothbrush can make for those in need. Meet the Alenicks, key contributors to a global effort that has helped put more than 150,000 toothbrushes in the hands of people living in 60 developing countries, fostering healthier futures – and brighter smiles – around the world.
Sisters Ashley and Paige Alenick grew up with an appreciation for community service. At ages 9 and 7 respectively, they were the youngest volunteers to participate in a chorus that performs songs from the 1940s for elderly residents at assisted living facilities. “It was an important part of our upbringing,” says Paige. “Our parents taught us the idea that if you have a lot, you should give something back.”
According to the sisters, the idea to collect and redistribute toothbrushes came on a random day in 2011 when Paige – appropriately – was brushing her teeth. “I thought about it simultaneously as something we take for granted and something others need,” Paige describes of her epiphany. From there, the Alenicks’ Donate-A-Toothbrush cause began to take shape.
The family reached out to Oklahoma-based World Dental Relief, an organization that sends dental experts on hundreds of annual missions abroad, and connected with Dr. Ron Lamb. The conversation confirmed the need for more supply of toothbrushes, as Lamb explained his organization did not have toothbrushes for its dentists to leave with those they treated, which meant the results that these missionaries accomplished to improve hygiene were short-lived at best.
Ashley and Paige also learned that the issue of dental health reached far beyond cavities. Paige describes learning about the links between dental health and heart health, and that AIDS and hepatitis can occur from sharing toothbrushes.
The sisters engage in letter writing campaigns to dentists nationwide, attend dental conventions where they speak with suppliers and distributors, and organize toothbrush drives at schools ranging from nurseries to Universities. To broaden the reach of their call for donations, Ashley and Paige also take their message to social media and news outlets.
The pair have met with name-brand manufacturers of toothbrushes and have even given testimony before the United Nations Youth Assembly. “It was amazing meeting other kids our age, sharing our ideas on how they could develop their own projects and encouraging them not to shrink away from the challenges of changing the world,” says Paige. “People take it seriously,” Ashley adds. “They’re so receptive to this idea and they want to help.”
The Alenicks regularly receive distribution photos that show children in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Vietnam, Senegal and other countries proudly holding toothbrushes that originated from Donate-A-Toothbrush. “It reminds our family what’s important and it gives us motivation to do more,” Paige says, describing how the children in the pictures appear to hold up the toothbrushes as though they were trophies.
The entire operation is a family affair. While Ashley and Paige lead the outreach effort, it is their father, Scott who built and manages the donateatoothbrush.com website. And Suzanne, their mother, helps wrangle stacks of donations all over the house. In their first year, the Alenicks rounded up 3,000 toothbrushes. Now, donations come in from more than 35 states, as well as from eight other countries – India, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Italy, Ethiopia, China and England. The family boxes up the donations and ships them to World Dental Relief. Today, Donate-A-Toothbrush is the largest supplier of toothbrushes to World Dental Relief, having brought in more than 150,000 toothbrushes.
“It’s just the four of us,” Paige says of their global endeavor. “We could not have done any of this without support from our parents.”
Ashley is now 22, studying law. Paige is 19, also in college. Speaking about the long-term sustainability of their effort, the two sisters say Donate-A-Toothbrush is a long-term commitment for them. “We have no plans to give it up,” Ashley declares. “We’ve managed it all through college and hope to grow it even more.”
During National Children’s Dental Health Month and every month, this family has found something they can do together that makes a difference on the other side of the globe. “We live in a community that has so much,” says Ashley. “It feels great to give back.” Paige agrees with her sister and partner in making change, adding, “Even the tiniest ideas can spiral into something bigger than you can imagine.”
Who are the people in your community doing good for the greater good? Nominate an exceptional volunteer you know for a Daily Point of Light Award today at http://www.pointsoflight.org/programs/recognition/dpol/nomination