It takes hard work and dedication to house and host volunteers from free dental and health clinics that draw hundreds of medical staff and patients. The effort increases when the dental clinic is held on campus for the first time, but UVa-Wise staff saw it as part of the College’s mission of public service.

Nearly 1,000 people from several states came to the David J. Prior Center during the July 20 weekend for the Virginia Dental Association Foundation and Missions of Mercy free dental clinic. Nearly 1,500 people received health and vision care at Remote Area Medical’s free clinic. Another 450 received dental care at the RAM event.

“I’m glad The University of Virginia’s College at Wise can be part of a much needed service to fulfill medical, dental and vision care for fellow citizens,” Chancellor Donna P. Henry said. “For many years, the College has been a partner, among many dedicated partners, who support the operations of the Remote Area Medical and the Mission of Mercy in providing volunteers and housing. This year, we were also pleased to host the Mission of Mercy dental clinic on campus at the David J. Prior Convocation Center. These are significant operations that take plenty of time, talent, resources and compassion to pull this off every year. And I hope many people are better off for it – both those receiving care and those providing it. It is furthermore a demonstration of civic duty, something we value deeply here and we hope to instill in our students.”

UVa-Wise graduate Santana VanDyke, a fourth year student at the UVA School of Medicine, returned to the region to volunteer with RAM again. She had previously volunteered at the free clinic while she was a UVa-Wise student. She hopes to pursue a career in dermatology.

“Growing up in rural southwestern Virginia, I was able to experience the health disparities that exist in this region firsthand,” she said. “I was fortunate enough to volunteer this past weekend as a medical student. This past weekend I saw numerous skin cancers removed and various other skin conditions treated. I felt as though we were able to make a big impact in a short amount of time. My heart was so full this weekend, and I feel very fortunate to get to play a small role in helping provide healthcare to my community.”

She said her goal is to increase access to dermatological care in rural areas.

“I cannot wait to return to RAM as a physician,” she said.

Chris Davis, director of the Prior Center, and his staff began set up on July 16. They placed 85 tables and arranged 650 chairs during the 10-hour set up task. The concourse was staged for patient registration and health screenings. Patients then walked to the Lakeview Room for triage assessment before they were taken to the main court for dental work.

Beginning Thursday and ending on Sunday, the Prior Center staff of five worked more than 30 hours eacg. Davis and Nick Marshall clocked more than 55 hours each over the weekend.

Davis said the gratitude from the patients and the volunteers was touching. Many were glad the event was indoors with the comfort of air conditioning and other amenities. The event was previously held outdoors at the Virginia-Kentucky Fairgrounds. The RAM event is still staged at the fairgrounds.

“I’ve honestly never been thanked as many times as I was this past weekend,” Davis said. “The patients were glad to be inside and not out in the heat and rain. I had several stop by my office to thank me and the College for allowing this event to happen in the Prior Center.”

Davis said it was remarkable to watch the community rally together to make the dental clinic as success. He also met volunteers who drove from as far as Maryland to help with the clinic.

“My eyes were opened as I truly realized there really are a lot of great and caring people left in the big, old world,” Davis said. “God bless them all. I saw so many tears of joy and thanks given to the volunteers from the patients. Each one had a different story and a different path taken to get here, but the one thing that stood out was their gratitude for the volunteers who took a weekend from their lives to give to those in need of care.”

Julie Scott, director of the C. Bascom Slemp Student Center, has worked with RAM volunteers for 16 years. She and her staff spend a whirlwind of a week preparing to house the volunteers in residence hall rooms.

“The week before RAM, my team and I meet with housekeeping, Chartwells Food Service, campus police, facilities and housing,” Scott said. “We discuss details and staff personnel based on the record number of volunteers we expected this summer.”

Scott and staff registered and houses 507 volunteers in seven different residence halls. She worked more than 70 hours last week and three staff members and a student worked 60 hours each during RAM week.

“Housekeeping deserves a good deal of credit for the success of housing RAM volunteers,” she said. “They had staff come in as early as 2 a.m. to clean the Prior Center before the dental procedures and other housekeeping staff cleaned buildings for RAM guests before they arrived, while they were here, and when they left.”

The College will do its part next year to make RAM and MoM a success.