Centre Volunteers in Medicine turns ‘helplessness into hope’ for the uninsured

January 27, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Before she came to the Centre Volunteers in Medicine, State College resident Jane Pennington found herself facing an impossible choice.

Pennington knew she needed extensive dental care and maintenance, and that it was critical for her daughter to receive pediatric dental care. But could she somehow manage to pay that considerable cost out of pocket, or did she save that money for day-to-day necessities?

“Paying for medical bills, that cost would be the equivalent of rent, or food bills, gas to get to work,” Pennington said, who lacks health insurance despite her full-time employment.

Although the situation Pennington found herself in is difficult, it is also all too common across communities in Centre County.

Every year, one in three Centre County residents accesses vital services funded by the Centre County United Way. The United Way which brings together 28 partner agencies across Centre County that work in education, health and financial stability.

One of those partner agencies is the Centre Volunteers in Medicine, or CVIM — a free clinic that offers comprehensive dental services funded by the United Way to families like Pennington and her young daughter.

Turning helplessness to hope

Centre Volunteers in Medicine Executive Director Cheryl White said that it’s easy to overlook how many families in Centre County benefit from services provided by community organizations like the United Way and CVIM, which offers a range of health care services for those without health insurance.

“Poverty is extremely hidden in Centre County,” White says. “Most people don’t realize there’s almost 11,000 people who are uninsured without access to health or dental care. So we’re here to catch those people who fall through the gap.”

But Pennington describes the work done at the clinic a little differently.

“CVIM is a place that really does turn helplessness into hopefulness,” she said. “Absolutely.”

Dr. Barry Stein, a local dentist who volunteers with the Centre Volunteers in Medicine, preforms a checkup on Jane Pennington at the CVIM dental clinic.

Dr. Barry Stein, a local dentist who volunteers with the Centre Volunteers in Medicine, preforms a checkup on Jane Pennington at the CVIM dental clinic.

IMAGE: Michael Martin Garrett

Thanks to “a guardian angel” who told her about CVIM, Pennington was able to undergo the necessary dental maintenance she had been unable to access for years. Furthermore, her daughter now enjoys regular checkups at CVIM’s dental suite.

Pennington doesn’t mince words when she describes the impact CVIM has had on her family. She’s healthier, more comfortable and more confident, especially knowing that her daughter is receiving the care she needs.

“It changed my whole life,” she said.

“We turn every dollar donated into $3 worth of medical care. At Centre Volunteers in Medicine, we save lives. We really do — we save lives.”

—CVIM Executive Director Cheryl White

‘We save lives’

“We treat the people here just like if they went to the finest dentist on Park Avenue in New York City,” said Dr. Barry Stein, a local dentist who volunteers with CVIM.

Excluding certain intensive procedures, he estimates that CVIM is able to provide 90 percent of the dental services available at a private practice — all at zero cost to the clinic’s patients.

Although CVIM has been able to dramatically reduce its dental waiting list since becoming a United Way Partner agency in 2014 — providing services to over 1,200 community members — roughly 600 people are still on the clinic’s waiting list.

“We have a pretty big role to fill,” Stein said. “The community need is tremendous.”

CVIM United Way sign

Centre Volunteers in Medicine have provided dental services to over 1,200 community members since becoming a United Way Partner Agency in 2014. 

IMAGE: Michael Martin Garrett

White describes CVIM as “a true free clinic” with no program revenue, in which every dollar raised through community support goes directly into patient care — which is why efforts such as the Penn State United Way Campaign are so important in supporting vital services like those provided at CVIM.

“We turn every dollar donated into $3 worth of medical care,” White said. “At Centre Volunteers in Medicine, we save lives. We really do — we save lives.”

For Pennington, supporting community resources like CVIM and the United Way is a simple decision.

“When you give to the United Way,” she said, “you are really turning helplessness into hopefulness.”

Visit UnitedWay.psu.edu to learn more about you can give, volunteer, and Live United.

Last Updated January 28, 2020