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Sidney entrepreneurs help fill service gap by supporting affordable dental care

ORCCA helps Saanich Peninsula families in need make oral care part of their routines
Michele Holmes, realtor and owner of Holmes Realty, joins treasurer Caroline Paterson and co-founder Dr. Mitra Hashemi of the ORCCA Dental Clinic Society, outside Coast Dental Care. The society offers affordable dental care for children and adolescents under 19 for low-income families on the Saanich Peninsula. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Michele Holmes of Holmes Realty first heard of Oral Care for Children and Adolescents (ORCCA) when Sidney by the Sea Rotary Club received a pitch for support.

Founded by Heather Burkett and Dr. Mitra Hashemi of Sidney Coast Dental Care, ORCCA offers affordable dental care for children and adolescents under 19 for low-income families on the Saanich Peninsula and surrounding areas. While Rotary helped the not-for-profit society get up and running, Holmes wanted to help ORCCA beyond the set-up phase.

“Being a past school teacher, I did realize that there is an incredible need for this type of thing, because students, they become bullied, they become ridiculed, their self-esteem goes, they are in pain, they can’t study,” she said. “It’s amazing how bad dental hygiene can affect your whole life.”

Accordingly, her business has set up a donation system to help sustain ORCCA over the years.

“Every time we sell a house, a portion goes toward ORCCA and the (Saanich Peninsula Lions Food Bank),” she said. Holmes also used her involvement with 100 Women Who Care to raise almost $16,000 in 2021 for ORCAA. “I was pretty pumped about that.”

More than a decade after Burkett, then working for the Saanich School District, and Hashemi began taking steps toward creating ORCCA, the centre has emerged as an essential service in the community.

“With the high cost of rental accommodation, people are not able to provide the adequate dental care for their children, because it’s too expensive,” Holmes said.

“They are having to make a choice between paying their rent or going to the dentist or putting food on the table and going to the dentist. This clinic is extremely important for our community because a lot of these parents are doing two or three jobs to make ends meet and they just can’t afford their dental care.”

Located in an annex at Sidney Elementary School, the facility has treated more than 1,000 children and adolescents since its official opening in March 2015.

ORCCA fills a gap in the services available for children in families with less means, Hashemi said.

“These kids basically didn’t have anywhere to go,” she said.

Hashemi has also inspired other local dentists to join her in volunteering time at the clinic.

Like Holmes, Hashemi sees ORCCA as an instrument to help overcome a major barrier for less fortunate families. But ORCCA also aids in the personal growth of children and adolescents who receive dental care, she said.

“They learn that as part of being a healthy person, they need to care of themselves. It creates self-respect and it improves their self-esteem at the same time, because they don’t feel embarrassed in front of other kids.”

ORCCA is not the only beneficiary of Holmes’ philanthropy and Hashemi’s volunteerism.

Hashemi advises Camosun College and serves on the board of the Victoria and District Dental Society. Still, her focus lies on ORCCA – she describes it as her “baby” – and she hopes to expand its range of dental services in future.

“Our hope is that gradually ORCCA can reach a point where private sponsors can walk in and they sponsor kids; their money is directly spent,” she said.

Holmes, meanwhile, has donated to a wide range of causes including the Canadian Wheelchair Foundation. Closer to home, she has supported several programs at Sidney elementary including an outdoor classroom and a breakfast program. “It’s the rock of our community,” she said of the school. She also supports the Saanich Peninsula Hospital and Healthcare Foundation as well as other local charities.

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Ultimately, she hopes other entrepreneurs or those with means can keep programs like ORCCA going in the future.

“Lots of time, we don’t realize what the need of our community is,” she said.

“Most of us have more than what we need on a day-to-day basis. I would like to be able to change people’s lives by contributing and supporting those who have really made a sacrifice to make these programs, like Heather, like Mitra. Those people need to be encouraged to carry on with valuable services.”

In general, Holmes said she feels very blessed to work in this community.

“It has been good to me and I just feel it is my responsibility and my pleasure to be able to give back.”

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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