From its organization in December 1921, the Denton, Texas, Kiwanis Club made a niche for itself in supporting the medical needs of underprivileged families. The interest evolved into a children’s clinic that now helps more than 300 children a year.
In its early years, the club organized Christmas celebrations, at which selected children received money to visit doctors and dentists. The program’s generosity prompted similar requests for financial support, and in 1923, an Underprivileged Child Committee formed within the club to ensure the requests could be prioritized and funded. But soon even this was insufficient.
In 1938, the Denton Kiwanis Clinic was incorporated, and an executive secretary was hired to manage the requests. Many of the earliest requests were for tonsillectomies, eye exams and wheelchairs and leg braces for polio patients. Discounted service—which at that time included voluntary work by doctors—allowed the club to pay US$2 to $3 for hospital stays.
The project, as well the fundraisers that sustain it, has evolved over the years. In addition to a trust fund, a food tasting event, firework show, a car show and even a block party featuring an Elvis impersonator support the cause.
“We can give kids treatment for things that may otherwise go untreated,” says club and clinic Executive Secretary Robin Meyer. “The faces of kids needing dental treatment are sometimes horribly swollen. But there is nowhere for them to go if they don’t have (government assistance). … There are many parents who cannot afford to pay for one cavity. Some will utilize the emergency room for care, but then they can’t afford the prescriptions that they are sent home with.”
Most children now are referred to the clinic after school nurses discover problems, but others come via word of mouth or through guidance from shelters or the United Way. Families with low incomes receive a voucher from the Kiwanis Clinic to present to their care provider for the cost of the child’s prescription, medical care or dental visit.
Meyer says the community is more than receptive to the program, and support for what many longtime club members call “the crown jewel of the club” has never wavered. The recipients are more than grateful.
“We have a ‘bucket brigade’ that walks around at the fireworks show and asks for donations for the clinic,” she says. “Once a man gave me $20 stating that his child had once received treatment. His child had been sick and he didn’t have the money to treat him, and we were there. Several single parents have also come in offering to clean the office or help with paperwork to repay the service.”
Meyer takes pride from a thank you letter from the 1940s, written by a 16-year-old who underwent an appendectomy. A sentence reads: “I’ve always thought of this organization as a great thing, but now I feel that more than ever.” –Courtney Meyer
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