“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

Oasis Free Clinics exists because of its volunteers — that’s no exaggeration. With only a handful of staff, we rely on volunteers to close the gap between the need for and delivery of our services.

Volunteerism is a founding principle of Oasis, one that is at the core of our work. In 1992, local physicians who saw a need for free medical care in our community created Oasis. They recruited their friends and colleagues to join them in caring for those who would not receive health care otherwise. Area doctors and nurses showed up one Tuesday evening a month, ready to provide compassionate care to our patients.

As the need for our services grew, so did the need for volunteers. The expansion of Oasis’ medical clinic from once a month to today’s five days a week happened largely because of the increased number of community members willing to share their time and expertise to help our patients. Over the years, we have had dozens of healthcare providers volunteer with us. Today, we have three physicians, two physician assistants, a nurse practitioner, three nurses and a medical assistant who volunteer in our medical clinic. Last year, our medical and mental health volunteers gave almost 950 hours of their time to our patients.

Our medical volunteers provide a wide range of primary care services, including health promotion, disease prevention, health maintenance, counseling, patient education, and diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic illnesses. In addition to our healthcare providers, a cadre of volunteer mental health professionals provides limited counseling to our patients.

When asked why he volunteers at Oasis, Dr. Jeff Maher said, “Helping people navigate poverty, for me, distills the essence of medical care to its core. Now I no longer look at Oasis as a place to channel non-paying patients, but rather a place for me to learn more about teaching, community, struggle and resilience.”

Almost 15 years ago, the Merrymeeting Bay Dental Society, a professional group of local dentists, approached Oasis about starting a free dental clinic. They understood that for many in our community, dental care was not an option, and they were interested in finding a way to help those in need. Thanks to the generous donation of space at the Jesse Albert Dental and Orthodontic Center in Bath, Oasis began offering free dental care to its patients. For the next 13 years, a core group of dentists and dental assistants volunteered two Tuesday evenings each month to address the oral health needs of our patients. As Dr. Rick Elsaesser said about volunteering at Oasis, “I enjoy volunteering at Oasis because I always feel like I get back more than I give. Dentistry is a beautiful thing when you expect nothing in return except for the true sense of helping others. The gratitude shown by the patients is an amazing thing to take home after working in the clinic.”

In 2016, we were able to expand our clinic to include two state of the art dental suites. While this allowed us to offer more dental clinics, it was contingent of having volunteers to provide services. Thankfully, our volunteers were up for the challenge! We now offer dental clinic for Oasis patients every Monday and Friday morning, several Wednesday mornings, and two Tuesday evenings. This is due entirely to the willingness of our volunteer dentists to increase the number of clinics they work. While the majority of our volunteers are the local dentists who started the clinic, we now have volunteers traveling from Bangor, Saco, Lewiston and Cumberland to serve our patients. Our dental volunteers gave 1,027 hours of time and provided $435,447 in free dental care to our community in 2017-18.

In addition to our medical and dental volunteers, we rely on others to help Oasis achieve our mission of providing high quality, compassionate care to those who need it. This includes volunteers who screen potential patients, a job that requires compassion, kindness and exceptional listening skills. We also have volunteers help with mailings, enter data, and post on social media. Many of our administrative volunteers are Bowdoin College students – amazing young people dedicated to helping the Brunswick community. These volunteers are critical; it takes a lot of support behind the scenes to keep a busy clinic running smoothly. Our administrative and student volunteers gave us 769 hours of their time last year.

Finally, we have our Board of Directors, dedicated and smart people who guide and lead Oasis to make sure that we meet community needs today and in the future. These community members sit through hours of meetings, reviewing budgets, discussing state and local issues that influence our work, and raising the funds needed to operate our clinic. Their dedication to Oasis is extraordinary.

All told, our volunteers gave almost 3,400 hours last year. What can you do in that amount of time? You could drive to and from North Pole, Alaska 23 times. You could fly to the moon and back 29 times. Or you could gather a group of 65 community members who have a passion for caring for our community and ask them to serve.

Anita Ruff is the executive director of Oasis Free Clinics. Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration among four local non-profit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in the community

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