Growing up in rural southern West Virginia, Dr. Hillary Homburg saw first-hand the health disparity among the residents.
After graduating from the West Virginia University School of Dentistry in 2009 and completing a general practice residency at The Ohio State University in 2010, Dr. Homburg moved back to her hometown of Charleston, West Virginia. Because she felt she could fill a need, she joined Cabin Creek Health Systems, a federally qualified health center, to develop a dental program in Clendenin, a town of around 1,200 people.
And she didn’t stop there. Dr. Homburg has participated in Give Kids A Smile since she was in dental school and once she returned to West Virginia, she participated in the Kanawha Valley Dental Society’s GKAS program. Her involvement sparked her to apply for the ADA Foundation Give Kids A Smile Community Leadership Development Institute in St. Louis in 2015.
Ambassadors are chosen from state and local dental societies and community-based organizations to learn best practices for initiating, expanding and enhancing a Give Kids A Smile program, in part by attending and helping facilitate one of the country’s largest GKAS events in St. Louis.
“I left the Give Kids A Smile Institute with a renewed sense of energy for the program and a lot of ideas for more community involvement and the need to request promotional help from the print and visual media,” Dr. Homburg said.
She and other volunteers visited after school programs in her area, including the Boys & Girls Club and Big Brothers Big Sisters program, to talk to their leaders about the GKAS event. They left fliers for the children to take home to their parents and promoted the event on social media.
It paid off: the turnout for the event doubled over the previous year, she said.
“Attending the institute made me very proud of our program here in the Kanawha Valley. We provide comprehensive care to a large number of children yearly with a limited budget and only volunteers,” Dr. Homburg said. “We do this because in West Virginia, we step up to do what needs to be done regardless of funds.”
Dr. Homburg is continuing her work with Give Kids A Smile on a national level by participating in an Ambassador Alumni task force group, which aims to create resources program coordinators nationwide can access.
The GKAS Institute may have refined Dr. Homburg’s volunteering and coordinating skills, but she’s been a fixture in the community for awhile. For the past five years, she has been the only dentist in Cabin Creek Health Systems, providing dental services for children and adults on an income-based sliding fee scale. During this time, the program has grown from a portable dental unit to a full dental clinic, with plans to open a second clinic next year.
In 2011, she was named Outstanding Rural Health Provider of the Year by the West Virginia Rural Health Association.
“I became a dentist with the goal of working in public health and providing education and treatment to the underserved,” said Dr. Homburg. “For me it was a very natural step to come back to the area where I was from and give back as much as possible.”