PARKLAND - There's nothing quite as beautiful as the smile of a child. So young, so full of themselves, so excited about all the places they will go, so sure of the better world they will make.
It's not something, though, that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is, officially, supposed to know or do anything about. Carefully pore over every single piece of legislation passed by the Congress and signed by the President in the last almost 50 years telling HUD to do this, mandating it to do that and, chances are, the word "tooth" or the word "teeth" will never, ever be mentioned.
Which is why it's always extra special when you learn that, against all odds, a Federal agency charged with building housing, revitalizing communities, promoting vibrant neighborhoods has had something to do with children's' smiles. Even in government bureaucracies, it turns out, miracles do happen.
Just ask almost 4,000 kids who live in and around Parkland, Washington, a community of about 24,000 people - a third of which are 19 or younger - just a bit under ten miles south of downtown Tacoma. Like any kids, they have mouthfuls of good, strong, healthy teeth. And where they and their parents go to make sure they stay that way is the non-profit Lindquist Dental Center for Children in Parkland which serves families regardless of their ability to pay.
Which is why HUD is in the dental business. Well, sort of. In 2012, Lindquist dental clinics served some 24,000 patients. With upgraded, expanded facilities it knew it could serve more. So it asked the Pierce County Community Connections for help. The help came in the form of a $350,000 grant of HUD Community Development Block Grant funds - targeted, under those laws passed by the Congress and signed by the President, to principally benefitting low- and moderate-income people - to do precisely that.
"We are thankful," Mary Jennings of Lindquist told The Suburban Times. "The expanded offices will help us serve even more children." Calling the CDBG funds "key," to "expanding opportunities" for low income residents, Community Connections' Corey Lew added that the award shows how CDBG funds "are making an impact in Pierce County."
But is it the kind of "impact" HUD and the Congress and the President are looking for? After all, it's not a row of shiny new houses or an upgraded park or playground or a new industrial park that creates new jobs, new economic opportunity.
On the other hand, bad teeth can lead to bad consequences for kids. A recent year-long, statewide study in Oregon, for example, found that oral disease was a leading cause of school absenteeism among elementary students in Oregon and the most frequent cause for children being brought to hospital emergency rooms. Low and moderate-income children with tooth decay, the Lindquist Center adds, miss an average of 13 days a year of school due to dental problems. Absenteeism, obviously, can affect a student's performance.
A HUD-funded physical upgrade and expansion of Lindquist's facility means a "healthier" community dental clinic. A healthier dental clinic means more kids with healthy teeth. More kids with healthy teeth means more healthy families. And more healthy families mean healthier communities.
The kind of communities where you see kids smiling, so young, so full of themselves, so excited about all the places they will go, so sure of the better world they will make. That's a $350,000 investment well worth making.