Sometime over the course of this summer, Brunswick stopped being a place where I go to college and became a place I call home.

Looking back, I am amazed at how little I knew about Brunswick during my first two years at Bowdoin. My knowledge of the town only extended as far as Maine Street – starting with the historic bridge and ending at Bowdoin College. Eventually I discovered Simpson’s Point and Cook’s Corner and remember being surprised at how large Brunswick is. If it weren’t for this past summer, I think that is likely where my discoveries would have stopped.

I was lucky enough to work with Oasis Free Clinics this summer through Bowdoin’s McKeen Center and step outside of the walls of Bowdoin. Oasis offers free medical, dental, and prescription services to uninsured adults making equal to or less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Level. My summer project was to work on a Community Needs Assessment for Oasis. The purpose of the assessment is to determine if Oasis is meeting the health needs of its patients and how it can address any unmet needs of the community. Oasis has a 650 square mile catchment area, serving the towns of Brunswick, Harpswell, Freeport, Durham, and all of Sagadahoc County. As part of this assessment, I surveyed patients, volunteers, donors, and community stakeholders of Oasis. During this process, I gained a new sense of what it means to engage with the community and the power of volunteerism.

Coming from Bowdoin, I always admired the stately houses and neighborhoods surrounding the College and Maine Street. In well-to-do areas like Brunswick, most people (myself included) don’t see the struggles some community members face. I had never stopped to think about where the affordable housing was located in Brunswick or wondered where single income individuals live. During my time with Oasis, I learned that there is no available affordable housing in Brunswick. This in turn contributes to the labor shortage exemplified by all the “help wanted” signs posted around businesses in Brunswick. People who would work here cannot afford to live in town and/or commute to work.

In the health realm, survey respondents spoke to the shortage of mental health providers and counseling resources available. Numbers of anxiety and depression have skyrocketed in the past two years, but there is extremely limited options available. I also learned about MaineCare expansion and the lack of primary care providers accompanying it, as well as the dental crisis and inability of people to receive free or low-cost dental care.

Along with learning about the needs of the community, I discovered the host of human services in Brunswick and the people who are working hard to address these concerns. I met some wonderful staff of agencies in the greater Bath-Brunswick area who demonstrated a deep care for their community. While the pandemic has proved challenging to many of these organizations, they are recovering and adapting to the ever-changing needs of the public.

I am truly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with the Oasis Free Clinics this summer. They are an organization that models service, compassion, respect, and care for all members of the community. They believe that healthcare is a right, not a privilege, and work every day to make that vision a reality. Oasis has a small, dedicated staff, a group of committed volunteers, and an invested Board of Directors.

The people at Oasis were commonly highlighted by patients and stakeholders as a strength of the organization. Another asset is that Oasis does not depend on billing for financial livelihood and can therefore practice medicine and dentistry in a more personal, non-transactional way. Everyone who provided feedback for the assessment had tremendous respect and gratitude for the services Oasis provides to its patients. Going into the clinic every day, I witnessed first-hand the hard work that occurs behind the scenes to provide an exemplary patient experience. In ten weeks, Oasis has given me incredible perspective on volunteerism, community engagement, and public health.

I feel proud to be an Oasis volunteer and Brunswick resident. After this summer, I am inspired to continue to learn and grow in this compassionate community.

Isabella (Isa) Quintana is a Bowdoin College Summer Fellow at Oasis Free Clinics, 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. 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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