“Did you know I have two crowns?”: Our Affiliate Redlands Christian Migrant Association helps children access oral health care

Red Nose Day makes it fun to come together to raise money and awareness for children who need our help most, in the United States and around the world. The mission: to end child poverty. The way: one nose at a time! And UnidosUS Affiliate Redlands Christian Migrant Association knows it well.

By Juana Brown, Director of Charter Schools at Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA)

Redlands Christian Migrant Association

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Ms. Esquijarosa says Samuel Perez, a student in her bilingual Kindergarten class at Immokalee Community School, is very proud of his crowns. He seems very knowledgeable about the dentist and the two new “coronas” he now has on his back molars. When asked about his visit to the dentist, he is quick to share that it took several visits to get everything he needed completed.

Maria, Samuel’s mother, recalled how she had waited to speak to Ms. Meza, Immokalee Community School (ICS)’s social worker, at the conclusion of a parent workshop. Hearing about the importance of good dental care for students and about RCMA’s partnership with UnidosUS’s Healthy and Ready for the Future (HRF) program and Red Nose Day, she had wondered if the school would be willing to help Samuel.

What she had hoped to hear

“He’s been in pain for six months, but since he is not yet a student at the school, I did not know if we could get help”. She was reassured by Ms. Meza, who had originally referred Samuel for the initial check-up. Mrs. Perez was relieved to hear she could get the much-needed help for Samuel, since the family had been struggling financially and money was especially tight.

Despite their limited means, they had not qualified for Medicaid in the last two years. Beyond basic checks-ups, health and dental care for the children had been an unaffordable luxury, so “we can help” was exactly what she had hoped to hear.

Agricultural work was difficult to come by during the summer and the family was already pooling their resources with another family in order to help make ends meet. For Samuel, this meant living in an extended family of six adults and seven children in a small but tidy mobile home.  Rather than a challenge, Samuel seems to relish the attention from adults and the other children.

A caring home for a caring boy

As the family’s youngest child, Samuel has been close with brother Marvin, a sixth-grade student also at ICS, and Nixon, his 20-year-old brother tasked with picking Marvin up from school each day. In addition to his own family, Samuel is excited to share his home with his padrinos (godparents) and two cousins.

Until last month, Samuel also held the unique place of being the baby of the family. That changed when his older sister Aida came back home with one-month old Viviana. When asked about his baby niece, Samuel confirms he loves her, but says he already had a niece even before baby Viviana. “Did you know that I was an uncle before I was born?” He excitedly explains that ICS second grader Camila Perez is his niece, even though she is older. He relishes the surprise that seems to get from students and teachers alike. He believes he is a good uncle because he has already had plenty of practice.

Ms. Esquijarosa likes to highlight Samuel’s compassion for other students and his even temperament. She says he has an architectural eye and loves building elaborate structures out of blocks. He has a knack for interacting with other students and seems preternaturally aware of other student’s feelings and concerns. She believes it’s because of the attention and care he receives at home. “He has learned to be caring from his family and seems to have an old soul for someone so young.”

Samuel likes to give advice to the other Kindergarteners, including the need for brushing three times a day and seeing a dentist regularly. “Oh, and also using the hilito”, he adds. When the last elicits a puzzled look from classmates, he demonstrates how they must also floss.

UnidosUS and RCMA’s partnership is clearly accomplishing its goal from the program: to provide a healthy start in oral health and early education for Latino children, especially those from migrant and seasonal farmworker families. Samuel is the perfect proof of it.

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