Like many non-profits, Oasis Free Clinics has core values – a set of principles that makes clear to our patients and partners what we stand for. They guide our decision making, inspire our team, and shape how we do our work.  

One of our values at Oasis is service. As an organization that started 26 years ago by a Tedford Housing volunteer who saw a need for free healthcare for those experiencing homelessness, serving others has been central to Oasis. Since our inception, we have firmly believed that it is important to share our talent and time for the benefit of others.   

This concept of service for the good of others is held in high regard by another local organization. Bowdoin College identifies a dedication to the Common Good as one of their key organizational values. According to the Bowdoin College website, on Sept. 2, 1802, Bowdoin President Joseph McKeen committed the college to the idea that education should benefit society, not just the individual. Through the McKeen Center for the Common Good, course offerings, and campus events, Bowdoin encourages students to think and act beyond themselves in order to contribute to the greater good.  

It should come as no surprise that the founder of Oasis, Dr. Peter McGuire, is a Bowdoin College alumni. Returning to Brunswick after medical school and residency as well as a tour in Vietnam, Dr. McGuire was serving on the Tedford Housing Board of Directors when he saw that there was no place for those experiencing homelessness to get free medical care. He quickly rallied colleagues and set up a walk-in medical clinic. Since then, thousands of people have received free health and dental care.  

We are fortunate that several Bowdoin alums and staff continue to bring the Common Good spirit to Oasis. This includes Bowdoin’s Director of Health Services and a long-time Oasis volunteer physician, Dr. Jeff Maher, as well as Bowdoin staff and former members of our Board of Directors Megan Hart and Dr. Seth Ramus. Additionally, Heather Rankin, Dr. John LaCasse and Abigail Isaacson Abbott currently serve on the Board of Directors, and Dr. Stephen Loebs recently completed a six year term.  

With a history of people connected to both the college and Oasis, one wonders how time at Bowdoin shaped their inclination to serve. When asked, Ms. Abbott said, “Two of my favorite professors at Bowdoin were Government Department professors Jean Yarbrough and Paul Franco.  In their courses, we discussed the role of government in society but also the vital function civic organizations play in addressing the needs of a community.  It reinforced for me the importance of participating in organizations like Oasis.”  

For Dr. LaCasse, reflecting on his time at Bowdoin, he recognized that the idea of giving back started as a student. He says, “I was very fortunate to attend Bowdoin and that feeling makes me want to volunteer for good causes. Helping Oasis, even in a small way, provides me a chance to give back for all Bowdoin and my career in healthcare have given me.” 

More recently, our relationship with the McKeen Center for the Common Good and the Pre-Health Advising Program has been a pipeline for students to gain valuable experience as they consider careers in public health and medicine. Sarah Seames, the McKeen Center Director has said, “We consider (Oasis) to be co-educators for Bowdoin students, teaching them values and practices of respect, empowerment, and the Common Good.” 

A recent example of this is Eskedar Girmash, who worked with us during the summer of 2019. According to Ms. Girmash,  

“As a student I often found myself exploring the question – How can we work towards the Common Good and how do I fit into this work? The Common Good always felt like an abstract concept to me. At Oasis, I was able to learn about the needs of the Brunswick community and how community members were meeting those needs by ensuring that everyone who walked through the Clinic was respected, cared for, and truly seen. Oasis strengthened my commitment to practicing medicine in underserved communities.”  

It is hard to say for sure, but it is my guess that this dedication combined with action is exactly what President McKeen hoped for when he committed Bowdoin and its students to the Common Good almost 220 years ago. I know that is why we at Oasis have included service as one of our core values – because we know that freely giving one’s time, skills and expertise in the service of others has a positive impact on both the giver and the recipient.  

As Ms. Girmash said about Oasis, “I see Oasis as the embodiment of the Common Good in Brunswick. The Clinic’s mission speaks to the power of working collectively to build an environment where all individuals can live healthily, happily, and safely. Oasis’s commitment to community and working collaboratively with other providers to meet the full health and social needs of patients especially speaks to the Common Good.”  

Bowdoin College offers the Common Good to Oasis through its students, staff, faculty, and alumni, while Oasis provides opportunities for learning, service and advocacy on behalf of our patients. By working together, both organizations contribute to the greater good and health of our community.   

Oasis Free Clinics is a non-profit, no-cost primary care medical practice and dental clinic, providing patient-centered care to uninsured adults in Midcoast, Maine. For more information, call 721-9277 or visit http://oasisfreeclinics.org. 

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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