By Lisa Gervais

With more than 1,000 patients getting more than $3 million in free dentistry, the Volunteer Dental Outreach (VDO) for Haliburton County marks 10 years in service May 19.

It was on that date in 2011 that VDO opened its doors to fill a need in the Highlands, said Lisa Kerr.

She said that from those humble beginnings, it has come a long way thanks to the enduring support of the community, a team of devoted volunteers and dental professionals, and many generous financial contributions.

Operating out of 739 Mountain St. in Haliburton, the VDO provides free, urgent dental care for low-income residents in the area. Kerr said that for many, the transformations have been life-changing, giving them the confidence to pursue employment opportunities and live without crippling pain.

She and Bill Kerr founded the VDO.

“We are so very proud of what everyone has accomplished through VDO,” they said. “It never occurred to us that it would be as successful as it is. What started as an idea to see a few patients in our off-time quickly turned into operating a stand-alone dental office that runs several days per week.”

The Kerrs said none of it would be possible without dedicated dental professionals who volunteer their time, the board of directors and the people who show up annually to sponsor or play in the annual golf tournament fundraiser. They also highlighted a mentorship program with fourth year dental students from the University of Toronto, which has been beneficial for both soon-to-be graduates and the clinic’s patients.

“The greatest achievements of VDO would be consistently having caring and compassionate volunteers who not only agree to come look after patients but love coming to help people in need,” Lisa Kerr said.

She added the pandemic has thrown a curveball at the VDO. To adhere to updated protocols from the province, the clinic had to be retrofitted and safety devices purchased. This was all made possible with funding from the Haliburton County Development Corporation. Another big change was a partnership with the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit to launch the Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program for Haliburton County. It has enabled the team to double the number of patients they treat.

VDO board chair Janis Parker, who has also been involved from day one, said she’s very happy to be part of the cause.

“I consider the VDO the most impactful charity that I have been lucky enough to be part of,” Parker said. “I am so proud of what we have created for our community.”

She praised the Kerrs for recognizing, and facilitating, the opportunity in the community.

“Although it takes a community, it also takes visionaries,” she said.

VDO by the numbers since 2011:

  • $3,105,169 in free dentistry
  • 8,526 appointments
  • 1,067 patients
  • 32 dentists
  • 22 dental hygienists
  • two dental hygiene students
  • 16 dental assistants
  • One denturist and one denturist student
  • Six dental office administrators
  • 97 U of T fourth year students
  • Five pre-dent science students
  • 13 board members
  • 12 days dedicated to the Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program.

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