Transforming Access to Dental Care in Traverse City, Michigan: United We Smile Dentistry Project by United Way Northwest Michigan
"We are no longer just fundraisers. We are the ones making the change."
Traverse City, Michigan – June 30, 2023 – Seth Johnson of United Way sheds light on the vision and origins of the United We Smile dentistry project coming soon to Traverse City.
“The partnership between United Way Northwest Michigan (UWNWMI) and the University of Michigan, and the creation of United We Smile, is a cutting-edge modern version of our capabilities as a nonprofit. We are no longer just fundraisers. We are the ones making the change,” said Seth Johnson, Executive Director of United We Smile and CEO/President of UWNWMI.
Addressing the pressing issue of limited access to dental care in the region, United We Smile will provide veterans, children, pregnant women, and those with intellectual or developmental disabilities with effectually free dental care. This transformative initiative marks a significant shift for the United Way nonprofit organization, propelling them from fundraisers to proactive change-makers in the community.
Born from a deep understanding of the community’s needs, the project aims to fill a major shortage of dental care accessibility in the area. Having worked extensively with nonprofits and organizations focused on early childhood development, Johnson recognized the gap and developed a solution. “I love our unique community in Traverse City. A passion for giving back is part of our culture here, and we’ve been a conduit to make that happen through United We Smile and United Way.”
Marking an entirely fresh concept for the organization, the United We Smile project is unprecedented in this region and nationally. United Way’s ownership and operation of a clinic represents a brand-new chapter as they shift their focus to direct community service and tangible impact.
Johnson has assembled a talented team, including Jennifer Kerns, the Director of Health Initiatives, who has played a pivotal role in the project’s development. Johnson noted, “Jennifer Kerns has been instrumental in launching this project. We’ve been two-peas-in-a-pod throughout making this happen. I oversee the logistics, and Jen is the Subject Matter Expert for dentistry.”
In their search for the best company to manage the project’s construction, United Way partnered with Cunningham-Limp, a commercial real estate firm committed to building better communities. Johnson explained, “Serving the community is engrained throughout each aspect of this project, including the company we’ve chosen to build it. Cunningham-Limp’s reputation for positively impacting the community stood out to us, and it’s been fantastic having them on board.”
"Our region has not had sufficient access to dental care for pregnant women and their children, creating unnecessary health and development issues. United Way and the University of Michigan are tending to that gap."
Expressing enthusiasm for the project, Randy DeRuiter, Senior VP of Client Services at Cunningham-Limp, highlighted its impact on underserved populations. “Our region has not had sufficient access to dental care for pregnant women and their children, creating unnecessary health and development issues. United Way and the University of Michigan are tending to that gap. Veterans will also benefit from the services at United We Smile, representing another underserved demographic in the northwest Michigan region that will be served. Our company could not be more excited to be involved.”
Recognizing the persisting disparities in oral health among individuals with lower socioeconomic statuses, and special populations with limited access to care, the United We Smile project aligns with national priorities set forth by leading health organizations such as the Surgeon General, the Institute of Medicine, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (See State’s 2025 Oral Health Plan). Projects like United We Smile are crucial in tackling these disparities and improving the oral health of all individuals in Northwest Michigan.
United Way Northwest Michigan and the University of Michigan Dentistry invite the community to support the United We Smile project and contribute to transforming access to dental care in Northwest Michigan. To learn more about United Way Northwest Michigan, please visit www.uwnwmi.org or contact them at 231.947.3200.
About United Way Northwest Michigan: United Way Northwest Michigan (UWNWMI) is a four-star rated nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing community issues and effecting measurable changes in Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Missaukee and Wexford counties. Through partnerships with various sectors of the community, UWNWMI focuses on education, health, and basic needs to improve lives. For more information, please visit www.uwnwmi.org or contact 231.947.3200.
About Cunningham-Limp: Cunningham-Limp is a full-service development firm with expertise ranging from real estate strategy to design and engineering to construction management. The organization’s mission is to have a positive impact on people, communities, and companies. For more information about Cunningham-Limp, please visit www.cunninghamlimp.com.