You know how the tip of an iceberg is only the beginning of something huge and amazing? Well, the same is true about the FreeD.O.M. Clinic (Free Dental, Optical, Medical care).
When husband and wife team, Don Bovell, M.D., and Ann Burnett, executive director, started this ministry more than 20 years ago as “United Hands,” they could not see the massive impact their love for Christ would have on so many people. In recent years they’ve extended the services to include mental and behavioral healthcare.
Although located in Ocala, Florida, the FreeD.O.M. Clinic is a mobile clinic, bringing services to other cities or counties once per month. Burnett said they even take FreeD.O.M. Clinic to migrant workers.
This summer, the FreeD.O.M. Clinic set up to serve the community and constituents for the second consecutive year at Southeastern Conference Camp Meeting, pouring an estimated quarter of a million dollars into the nearly 300 people who showed up and registered this year.
One patient, we’ll call him George, was one of the first people in line. At age 42, George had “never been to the dentist,” and had been in pain for years, with several teeth that needed to be extracted. But, he was without dental insurance and had no extra income. Knowing that these free valuable services are offered on a first-come, first-served basis, George wanted to make sure he took advantage of this blessing. So, he arrived at 5 p.m. — 12 hours prior to the clinic opening at 5 a.m.
The next morning, after receiving an hour of labor of love in his mouth of pain, George exited the dental chair with his gums packed with gauze and as big a smile as he could manage. “They made it seem so easy,” he said, being careful to keep the gauze in place. “It didn’t even hurt like I thought it would. I’m so grateful for this service.” With tears in his eyes, he added, “I don’t know when I would ever have been able to afford to get my teeth fixed.”
More than 80 professionals, who traveled at their own expense from as far as California and New York, were on hand to minister to the large, well-organized crowd. A staff of medical doctors, nurses, an ophthalmologist, an optician, many dentists, dental assistants, and nearly 40 volunteers opened their hearts to those in need. Services included 60 eye exams, 49 medical consultations, 200 dental exams and services, and 59 pairs of prescription eyeglasses.
Another key person to this ministry is Grace Daley, director of health education, and former WNBA basketball player. One of Daley’s roles is to interact with the people. “She makes them feel loved and welcome. She serves them with love and compassion,” Burnett shared. Gregory Mack, president of Southeastern Conference, also offered full support as a part of his mission-driven program. “This administration gets it, and the previous one did, too,” Burnett said. “We’re committed to providing these services. And, the church is, too.”
Although started as a self-funded ministry, held only once a year, the local and mobile monthly clinic is mostly funded by the Marion County Hospital district. The organization recognized that the need was year-round, and changed the model from yearly to monthly.
Burnett has a message for the local church —- especially for the smaller churches where members don’t have the resources to do a free clinic. She reminds the church that they all have the health message, and they need to communicate it to people who desperately want to reverse their chronic diseases, and receive clarity in their thoughts and peace in their hearts.
“Even smaller churches can develop and maintain programs like NEWSTART and CREATION. They can develop friendships in the community, and become like a health club. It only takes time, commitment, and very little money,” she advised. Some other ideas include offering a free exercise class, free cooking classes with samplings, a walking club, and a weight loss program. “Many people may not come to your church service, but they will feel welcomed to come to your programs. This is relationship evangelism,” she added.
Like the FreeD.O.M. Clinic that started as the tip of an iceberg, a small outreach to a few people, it has become the big iceberg of love and healing — ministering in 2015 alone to more than 5,500 people, with an estimated value at $3 million. Start with the tip!
Southeastern | November 2018