When first went into Teacapan, Mexico eight years ago they were astounded to find that the kids drank coca-cola instead of milk, had little or no dental home care and no fluoride. Today, thanks to the work of three local dentists and their all volunteer teams, most of the children of Teacapan have brighter, happier smiles.
Project Stretch was founded in 1988 by a small group of dental professionals interested in providing vital dental services to needy children.
“We are now in eight areas nationally and internationally,” said Director of Project Stretch Gail Weisberg. “We started as an international organization, but now we are in ten countries and seven states including New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.”
Project Stretch was started by children’s dentists Dr. David Tesini, Dr. John Ficarelli and Dr. Jess Kane. Dr. Ficarelli is a Walpole dentist. Both Tesini and Kane are located in Natick.
According to their website, “Project Stretch is a private, voluntary, non-profit corporation supported by fundraising events as well as contributions from private citizens and corporations. Dentists, dental students, dental assistants and dental hygienists and other volunteers donate their time and talent to provide dental services that have brightened children's smiles around the world.”
“Most dental groups have a religious affiliation,” Weisberg said. “We are non-denominational and will go wherever there is a need.”
Weisberg is herself a dental hygienist and has been involved with Project Stretch for 16 years.
“A friend told me about it, and suggested I might like to get involved,” she said.
Weisberg loves her volunteer work, and is thrilled with the amount of kids they can see and help in a short time.
“We have been in Mexico for eight years now,” Weisberg said. “ In one years’ visit two teams assessed 1000 kids in our annual three week visit. The group regularly sees 350 children per week while in Mexico.”
Much of the work that needs to be done is education.
“In Mexico we have taken coke out of the schools, educated mothers on home care and added fluoride to the schools, Weisberg said.”
The next step in the model is to make the village self sufficient. Project Stretch is doing that by educating a local to be the dentist when they are not present.
“There was a villager picked to go to dental school,” Weisberg said.“His education was paid through private donations, and now he is in charge of care in between our visits.”
Dr. Tesini has been in Natick for 35 years and is well known by all. Dr. Kane is also Natick based. Dr. Ficarelli is not, but is a vital part of the Project Stretch team.
There is huge community involvement,” Weisberg said. “Generations of kids have come through the Natick offices of Dr. Tesini, as many as three generations in some cases, and he and the other doctors will do anything and everything for anybody. They are among the most generous people I know.”
Project Stretch will be running a fundraising auction from March 15 to 30. Please contact Gail at 401 -368-2428 or firstname.lastname@example.org to help. There is a $25 membership fee to join. To donate or bid on this auction go to biddingforgood/projectstretchdental.