Joy in a Smile

30A Wine Festival beneficiary, Children’s Volunteer Health Network, is changing lives

Joy in a Smile

30A Wine Festival beneficiary, Children’s Volunteer Health Network, is changing lives by offering dental,
vision, and mental healthcare for children in Northwest Florida.

 Kelly Taylor, a dental hygienist with Children’s Volunteer Health Network, joined her team members recently at a local college to speak about the value of serving in public health. Working with CVHN, Taylor has first-hand experience with this subject. CVHN, which she joined in 2008, provides free, quality health services including dental and vision care to children in Walton and Okaloosa counties who otherwise might lack access to these services.

That day at Northwest Florida State College, one student raised her hand and spoke directly to Taylor. “I think I used to be one of your patients.” Kelly was stunned. CVHN’s Mobile Dental Clinic—which travels to more than 10 local schools and community organizations to provide care—had served the elementary school the young woman attended. She told Kelly the care she received made such an impact, it inspired her to study to become a dental assistant. “I was beaming afterwards,” Kelly said. “We’ve stayed in touch since then, and she told me that when she was growing up her parents didn’t really teach her about taking care of teeth, and she didn’t always have even a toothbrush and toothpaste. But because of CVHN she always tried her best. It was amazing to know that CVHN and I had that impact in her life.”

The organization began with one boy, Tyler, who suffered from teeth so jagged that he was bullied at school. A volunteer named Tricia,who became CVHN’s founder, knew about his situation and found a dentist willing to provide braces free of charge, fixing his teeth and giving Tyler a new outlook and new confidence. It planted a seed in her mind and the minds of other volunteers who learned of Tyler’s story.

“There are so many children in need,” said Jane Bahr, a founding board member of CVHN. “Most people look at Walton County and only see 30A, and that’s not the whole story. In Walton and Okaloosa Counties, many families are really struggling, and we wanted every child to have access to the care they need. You can’t study if you have a toothache. You can’t concentrate if you have a toothache. Tooth decay can also lead to infection, which can spread and become a major health issue. There are so many things that are connected to good dental hygiene that we don’t even think about.”

Alys Beach has played a critical role in the mission of CVHN—which also includes vision care and will soon "introduce mental-health services—from the beginning. The 30A Wine Festival, underwritten by The Alys Foundation, donates all proceeds to CVHN. Scheduled this year for February 23 through 27, it has evolved into a five-day celebration of wine, spirits, beer, and culinary favorites.

Alexis Miller, director of events at Alys Beach, says the festival was originally proposed and organized by CVHN and soon adopted by The Foundation, which sought to make it a true Alys Beach event with events including the kick-off Wine Dinner at Caliza Restaurant, an evening of Oysters and Champagne, the Flor de Cana Rum Dinner, a Mixology Seminar, the popular Bourbon, Beer and Butts event, a Grand Tasting, Gospel Brunch, and Rosé & Croquet for the finale.

“Ours is very different from most wine festivals,” Alexis said. “This year will be a nautical theme, which is fun because it’s right on the water.” She added that being able to raise money for CVHN, which The Foundation also does through other events, makes it even more meaningful for organizers and guests. “Everyone wants to be a part of helping the kids that CVHN helps,” she said. “They are out there making kids’ lives better. If you feel good about your smile, you feel better about yourself.”

Often homeowners will get up and speak about the organization and its cause, prompting even more donations. The more people know, Jane said, the more they want to help. Thanks to money raised from this event and others along with private donations, CVHN has almost completed a second Mobile Dental Clinic for restorative care. Already, the original Mobile Dental Clinic is the backbone of the organization, serving over 1,000 children each school year, providing on-site care that eliminates the need for parents to transport kids to appointments.

“We feel like it’s our job to help, and that’s been our mission for 16 years,” Jane said.

To learn more about CVHN or make a donation, visit CVHNkids.org.