Touching Lives Through Smiles: Minnesota’s First-Ever Mission of Mercy

Touching Lives Through Smiles: Minnesota’s First-Ever Mission of Mercy

Mark Eibensteiner, Venetia Laganis, D.D.S., Stephen F. Litton, D.D.S., Sarah Magnuson, D.D.S., and Rodney A. Young:
Part Two*: Meet the Donors Minnesota will host its first-ever Mission of Mercy event at the Verizon Wireless Center in Mankato this August 17-18. With a targeted goal of 2,000 patient  treatment encounters, the event will provide approximately $1 million of free dental care in two days. Northwest Dentistry recently sat down with donors Rodney Young of Delta Dental of  Minnesota, Mark Eibensteiner of Dental Technology Group, individual donor Venetia Laganis, D.D.S., Stephen Litton, D.D.S., MnMOM Financial Donor Lead, and Sarah Magnuson, D.D.S.,  MnMOM Donated Services and Supplies Lead, for background on how and why they chose this event and how their various choices in donation support this complex undertaking. 


Members of the MnMOM task force: Nicole Kuhns, Hotel Lead; Dr. Tasha Strait, Restorative Co-Lead; Dr. Stephen Litton, Financial Donor Lead; Dr. Roger Sjulson, MnMOM Vice Chair; and Phyllis Sjulson, Patient Registration Lead.

Fundraising Goals
Dr. Stephen Litton, a retired orthodontist in Golden Valley, Minnesota, is president of the Minnesota Dental Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Minnesota Dental Association. Dr. Sarah  Magnuson, a general dentist with Children’s Dental Services public health clinic in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is MnMOM’s Donated Services and Supplies Lead for the upcoming event. 
 
NWD: The Minnesota Dental Foundation is sponsoring Minnesota’s first Mission of Mercy event. What are the Foundation’s goals related to this initiative? 
Dr. Litton: The Foundation has a mission of supporting outreach programs that provide dental services to the underserved populations and communities and to encourage and support  volunteerism within the profession. The MnMOM project fits well with our core values. This is, obviously, the biggest project the Minnesota Dental Foundation has attempted since we  started funding projects in 2002, and we are confident that it, like all of our other projects, will be a resounding success. 
 
In addition, it is important to have a not-for-profit organization as a repository of the funds raised so that all of the donors are comfortable giving their charitable dollars. All of the grants  we have written to generate money to produce the Minnesota Mission of Mercy require that there be a 501(c)(3) organization to receive the donated dollars. 
 
NWD: Financial donations and in-kind contributions are critical to the success of a MOM event. How much will be needed to cover the operating expenses of the event? 
Dr. Litton: Although we have developed a budget for the MnMOM project, it is extremely difficult to know how many dollars actually will be needed. It is dependent upon how much of the  expenses that are generated are covered by in-kind donations. If we cannot obtain a donation of something that we need to make the MnMOM successful, we have to purchase it. We  have estimated about $200,000 in cash and in-kind donations as the total cost for the anticipated 1,000 volunteers. This includes equipment rental, facility rental and supplies, food, office 
supplies, computers, shirts, signage, and of course, all of the dental supplies needed to treat about 2,000 patients — the list of items is very long. 
 
Dr. Magnuson: This is our first event, so every donation and dollar amount is going to help. Currently we are just making a small dent in the amount of donated supplies. We have interested donors but will need all the basic materials, including burs and gloves. The less we have to purchase for dental and general supplies, the more money we will have available for  our event next year in Bemidji. 
 
NWD: What kind of response have you had from the dental community and other community partners in your outreach efforts? 
Dr. Litton: “Phenomenal” is the first word that comes to mind. Foundations, corporations, district dental societies, other dental organizations, and individuals have been extremely generous  in helping to fund this project. We have raised just over $304,000. In fundraising, you ask for twice the amount you need, hoping to get about half of it, which is what we did. However,  our three largest donors, the Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation, the Walmart Foundation, and the Carl and Verna Schmidt Foundation, gave us the amount we requested — very, very 
generous, to say the least.
 
Moreover, the phenomenal response has generated an even larger story. We have been notified by the Walmart Foundation that the Minnesota Dental Foundation, not just its Mission of  Mercy program, is a finalist in the Associate Choice Program. In this program, Walmart and Sam’s Club employees vote on the cause they think is most important to the company and their  community. Walmart’s giving efforts strive to meet the unmet needs of the underserved populations and to support organizations that give individuals access to a better life. The Minnesota  Dental Foundation’s mission is to help the underserved access dental care, so we are on the same page — to help the underserved. The finalists in this program will receive a monetary award.
 
Dr. Magnuson: I absolutely agree that the response has been extremely positive, especially with the companies. We are so grateful to everyone who has agreed to donate materials or  volunteer time. Just let me reiterate that no donation is too small. 
 
NWD: If others are interested in donating to this charitable cause, how can they do so? 
Dr. Litton: It is very easy to donate. Just send a check to the Minnesota Dental Foundation, 1335 Industrial Blvd., Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN 55413 and note on the memo line: MnMOM.  One also can call the MDA at (612) 767-8400 and donate with a credit card or with appreciated securities, or look on the Donor page of the MnMOM on mndental.org/mnmom.
In addition, if people feel they just want to donate to the Minnesota Dental Foundation and have the money be used in any program where it is needed, they may feel free to send in a  contribution that is unrestricted. 
 
Dr. Magnuson: For in-kind donations, please contact me, Sarah Magnuson, at jorg0171@hotmail. com. We will be accepting donations immediately and storing them for the event at space  donated by the Henry Schein Company. 
 
Dr. Litton: The first phase was to raise the money/in-kind donations in order for this event to be successful, and we are well on the way to completing that portion of the project. The  next phase is to get enough volunteers to make the project work. We need dentists, hygienists, assistants, medical personnel, pharmacists, EMT personnel, and hundreds of laypersons to  help with food service, directing traffic, escorting patients, translating (Spanish, Sudanese, and Somali), registration, and more. Registration is all online at mndental.org/mnmom, where  interested volunteers can see the many areas where they are needed.
 
Donor Profiles
Mr. Mark Eibensteiner, president of the Dental Technology Group, is an in-kind donor for computers and technology support for the Mission of Mercy. Dr. Venetia Laganis is an individual  member donor to the event. 
 
NWD: Dr. Laganis, you were one of the first individual donors of the Mission of Mercy project. Why was contributing to this cause important to you? 
Dr. Laganis: After watching the MOM video, which brought tears to my eyes, and listening to the passion and dedication in the voice of [Minnesota Mission of Mercy Chair] Dr. Alejandro  Aguirre as he was presenting his vision for the Minnesota MOM project, I felt compelled to step up and not only volunteer my time, but also make a monetary contribution to help make this  project happen. Both Dr. Aguirre and I come from countries less fortunate than the U.S., so I share his motivation to give back to the community that has so generously embraced us in  the last 20+ years in a place that we now both can call home. 
 
NWD: Dentistry has always been a profession with a high value placed on “giving back”. How do you see dentists continuing that tradition with the Mission of Mercy? 
Dr. Laganis: Dentistry is not just a profession, and I think all dentists are looking for a chance to give  back. MnMOM is a service to the community, and as such, the project offers a  great opportunity for those of us who do not want to travel to a third world country to make a difference right here in our own backyard. I have confidence that the MOM project will become an annual event, and dentists once again will extend themselves to the needy and provide their volunteer services, in-kind donations, and/or monetary contributions. As a pediatric  dentist, I know that my colleagues are eager to participate and serve the most innocent victims of a struggling economy. I also know that general dentists and other specialists are ready to rise to the challenge of offering their expertise and providing free dental care to all the vulnerable adults who have been trapped in a difficult financial struggle with no way to afford  dental treatment. Together we can make a difference, give hope to people, and improve their outlook for life. 
 
NWD: Mr. Eibensteiner, your company, Dental Technology Group, has donated all of the computers and the technical support needed for the onsite management of this event. How does  Minnesota’s Mission of Mercy fit with your company’s outreach goals? 
Mr. Eibensteiner: Every year we try to donate at least a portion of our time and services and product if need be to different organizations, different charities. It is our way of giving back — as long as Dental Technology Group (DTG) has been around (I started the company in 2005), we have done something every year. The MDA — actually [Mission of Mercy Dental Chair]  Dr. Jamie Sledd — came to us and asked if we would be interested. 
 
NWD: She’s hard to say no to … 
Mr. Eibensteiner: [Laughs] Exactly! 
 
NWD: Have you ever provided support for a charitable event like this before?
Mr. Eibensteiner: There hasn’t been an event like this before in Minnesota that I was aware of. We have donated to individual dentists to go to, I believe, Jamaica and the Bahamas area to help children there and various other much smaller dental charitable work here and there. So when Minnesota Mission of Mercy was presented to us, we did already have an  understanding of the importance of dentistry to the public welfare. We appreciate what the doctors we work with are contributing and try to help in any role that we can. 
 
NWD: Tell us about the scope of your donation. What exactly will you be providing, both in terms of equipment and on-site support for the event? 
Mr. Eibensteiner: We will be providing all of the computers and all the networking support, so we will have personnel down there the entire time. We are going to donate all the serverware so they can capture the live data: all the patient history records, X-rays, possibly all the paperless forms. Then upon completion of Mission of Mercy, we will be housing the data live so that the following year there will actually be a live history. If Mission of Mercy takes place again next year, we will help again, and we will be able to start building patient histories so that if MOM sees the same people, they will be able to pull up the records, pull up the X-rays. On top of that, we will have access for anyone who needs to get into the  system between now and then. If there is a patient who is “referred out” and he or she sees a dentist who wants to see what was done at MOM, that dentist will have access to those  files/records. 
 
NWD: Did you have a model for this?
Mr. Eibensteiner: A lot of the pieces we already had in place from other charity events. We own a data center where we do online backup for our dental clients. It is all up-tothe-minute,  allowing clients access whenever they need it. So it isn’t a huge stretch for us to do this. It is an added benefit that the MnMOM participants won’t need everything printed out and stored  on paper to be sorted out later. And we learn, too, every time we do something like this. 
 
NWD: How will you be personally involved? What are you most looking forward to? 
Mr. Eibensteiner: I will be involved from start to finish. I am working with a program designer who will be running the practice management software. I will be in Mankato for network  structure set-up on-site support. I am always looking forward to a challenge — something that hasn’t been done, something that can be done better, something that other businesses,  other peers in the country, can benefit from. Doing something new and, I guess, cutting edge has always been on my forefront of things I enjoy doing. 
 
NWD: It sounds like MnMOM fits your criteria of a challenge … 
Mr. Eibensteiner: I am happy to see something like this happen in Minnesota. There is nothing in Minnesota similar to this that I am aware of. It is exciting to see something like this get  off the ground, literally starting from nothing into “Okay, how do we put this all together?” It’s nice to be part of something that is bigger than the day-to-day, bigger than the business  (on my side of it). I find it is something important that should happen, and I am glad it’s coming. This moves people forward who might otherwise not be able to do that. It opens all kinds  of doors. 


The Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation presented its signature sponsor check to MDA Mission of Mercy representatives March 13. Left to right are Ann Johnson, Executive Director, Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation; Joseph Lally, V.P. Government Relatio

Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation

Mr. Rodney Young is CEO and president of Delta Dental of Minnesota, and Chair of the Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation. 
 
NWD: Delta Dental Foundation has contributed $150,000 to MnMOM, making you the Signature Sponsor of the event. Tell us how this project fits with your Foundation’s goals. 
Mr. Young: The goals of our Foundation are to improve access to oral health and to improve overall oral health for the residents of Minnesota. The Mission of Mercy is not only a  worthwhile commitment to those in need of oral health care, it perfectly corresponds to our corporate goals. As an organization, we are excited to participate with the Minnesota Dental  Association and the Mission of Mercy. It is the most important event to which Delta Dental has the opportunity to contribute. As a result of Delta Dental’s national association, I have had  the chance to learn more about the national Mission of Mercy initiatives. The unanimous conclusion is that the value provided to the recipients of the Mission of Mercy, and for those who  volunteer is tremendous.
 
NWD: This is the first time Delta’s Foundation has made a gift to the Minnesota Dental Foundation. What does this signify in terms of future partnerships between the two organizations? 
Mr. Young: Our collaboration signifies a new day for the working relationship between our two organizations. I am personally committed, as is the entire Delta Dental organization, to  create an environment of collaboration, especially for programs and opportunities where we can help the underserved, like those in the Mission of Mercy. Based on the recent very positive  interactions with the leadership of the Minnesota Dental Association, there are additional and noteworthy collaborations ahead. 
 
NWD: What do you look forward to regarding the actual event in Mankato? Will you be attending? 
Mr. Young: Based on what I have heard, we are anticipating an extremely busy and successful event. We will have several volunteers from our Delta Dental team, and I recently was  made aware that a few of our dental professionals from our Board of Directors will also participate. Our team members are looking forward to rolling up their sleeves and truly helping. I  know there will be many, many satisfied patients; and I will bet there will be a few new friendships developed as a result of working closely together. 
 
We are happy to share that in addition  to our financial support to the Mission of Mercy, our volunteer employees will receive paid time off, and we will cover expenses for overnight hotel stays. We are even exploring if we should  rent a bus to transport employees to Mankato. As far as my attendance, I have international travel plans for the time the Mission of Mercy is taking place, yet I am working on changing  my travel plans so I can participate. 
 
NWD: What else would you like to tell Minnesota Dental Association members about Delta’s support of our first Mission of Mercy event? 
Mr. Young: First, I would like it to be understood that our collaboration is the first of several — the next big opportunity to collaborate is the Mission of Mercy to be held next year in  Bemidji. Delta Dental will be a sponsor as well as a participant. Second, we as an organization welcome the opportunity to explore other initiatives our two organizations can tackle on  behalf of the residents of Minnesota. And finally, I believe there have simply been some missed opportunities in the past for our two organizations to understand each other and work  together. In my short time at the helm of Delta Dental, I perceive some very positive winds of change upon us all. 
 
Thank you for asking me to share a few words regarding our collaboration  with the Minnesota Dental Association in sponsoring the Mission of Mercy.