Our Mission, Vision, and History
Duck River Dental Outreach exists to create a healthier community by providing comprehensive oral health care for the underserved population in our area.
Partnering with our community to provide direct patient care to restore, improve, and protect the dental health of un-insured families in our area of Tennessee.
In 2017 as the Men’s Club of St. Luke United Methodist Church in Columbia, Tennessee was searching for an ongoing mission project and club member Dr. Dennis Gardner engaged Dr. Tom Underwood to speak to the group and guests about the work of Interfaith Dental Clinic in Nashville. Dr. Underwood enthusiastically shared the mission of Interfaith Dental which is “to create a healthier community by providing transformational oral health care for those experiencing poverty”. Serving the greater Nashville area, Interfaith began their mission over twenty years ago with two dental chairs and a few volunteers in the basement of West End United Methodist Church.
After hearing about the growth and success of Interfaith Dental and seeing that no such program existed in Columbia and the surrounding area, Jim Morrison, St. Luke Men’s Club Chair, convened the club with the challenge of providing dental services to underserved of the local community. The group decided that it was called to service in this mission, and thus, with little funds and a glimmer of a vision, the move to create a dental clinic began. While launched by the Men’s Club, this would be a faith-based community project.
By early 2018, the dental clinic committee had elected officers – Jim Morrison, Chair; Dr. Dennis Gardner, Vice Chair; Lawrence Horner, Secretary; and Marvin Caine, Treasurer. Pastor Bo Myers served as clergy representative. To this committee were added Mary Ann Horner and Lori Thomas. As the dental community, churches, and civic organizations were surveyed, others were added to the group including Dr. Brian Fann. Early monetary donations came from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and the Columbia Kiwanis Club as well as St. Luke itself. With the assistance of attorney Chaz Molder, the committee began work seeking a charter and tax-exempt status, and by March 2018, the name Duck River Dental Outreach was selected to reflect the area served and express the mission involved.
As work continued and donations of equipment and supplies were gathered and placed in storage, the question of an office location loomed large. While the group continued to work on faith, Dr. Gardner discovered that Dr. Tom Moore’s former practice had closed while he aimed at serving nursing facilities in the area. When approached Dr. Moore was enthusiastic about his office being used to serve those in need, such that he offered DRDO his facilities and existing equipment rent-free for six months with a lease to be negotiated for the time beyond.
Meanwhile, lease terms, policies, and procedures were instituted. Additional persons were added to the committee which had now become the DRDO board. Other volunteers rendered advice, served on the board, and worked on teams to move the project along. Among those persons were Debbie Follis, Dr. Robin Wilhite, Dr. Victor Beck, Jennifer Fulbright, Lisa Paul, Chelsea Thomas, and Le Anne Sanville, along with clergy Keith Sherwood and Don Terry. Work continued through pandemic with a continually changing proposed opening date. Duck River Dental Outreach moved into its offices at 320 North Garden Street high above the Duck River in June of 2021 and saw our first patient on August 27, 2021.
Further supplies were donated by Dr. Paul Cullom and by Dr. John Chiles including digital X-Ray. Volunteers came to clean, refurbish, work on landscaping, and assist with administrative tasks. Early professional volunteers included Dr. Dennis Gardner, Dr. Sarah Clayton, Dr. Alex Goodman, and Dr. Sam Hutton often along with their assistants. April McCormack volunteered as hygienist, and Chelsea Thomas and Le Anne Sanville as assistants. Others serving were Lisa Paul and Mary Grace Davis. These have been joined by a host of other volunteers which only emphasizes the need for more continuing help from our dental community and non-professionals.
Maury Alliance and Chamber of Commerce held a formal ribbon cutting for Duck River Dental Outreach on March 29, 2022, and a community open house was held in late April 2022. By the end of April, DRDO had completed seventy patient visits with the equivalent of $40,000 in dental work.
Delta Dental contributed funds which enabled the purchase of a new autoclave. Churches, civic groups, and businesses have continued to donate money. These donations along with the time and expertise contributed by professionals and others are the lifeblood of Duck River Dental Outreach which continues to move on faith.
From those early dreams and visions to today, Duck River Dental Outreach continues to note what we call “God Moments”. One of these came when the DRDO name was selected by the early board, no one knowing that we would be located overlooking the Duck River. Another such moment was found in the hiring of a new office assistant at St. Luke Church whom we later discovered to be a former dental assistant. These “God Moments” and a continuing leap of faith continue to propel Duck River Dental Outreach where “Smiling is Good for the Soul.”