Woodlawn Dental Gallery has built a reputation for helping its neighbors in need. So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, not only was owner Ogbonna Bowden forced to shut down operations for all non-emergency services and cut back employee hours, he also had to temporarily shutter the practice’s Smiles of Tomorrow program. Closed childcare centers meant the program providing dental care and education for underserved children across Chicagoland regardless of their ability to pay would have to wait.
A recent grant from the University of Chicago, however, will help Bowden get through this uncertain period, he says, by allowing him to pay his 10 employees, order additional personal protective equipment, and see a few more emergency patients pro bono.
“I know the good that University of Chicago does globally but this was a chance to experience the good they do locally in the community,” Bowden said. “As a small business, we don’t have an infinite amount of resources, our resources are limited depending on day-to-day operations. Our emergency fund is normally not built for months, it’s built for ‘Oh, we had a bad week.’ So, to get that extra bump to offset the overhead for health insurance, we can make sure our employees get paid and keep the morale going and keep the service going that’s so beneficial to the community. It just helps out.”
Woodlawn Dental’s grant was one of 181 the University awarded to South Side small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. These grants are just one element of the institution’s South Side COVID-19 Community Support Initiative launched on March 30.
Keeping his practice up and running during this critical time sustains the business to get back to their charitable work when schools reopen and provides a vital emergency service to the community in the meantime, Bowden says.
“A lot of patients are struggling, a lot of patients are getting laid off. If they have a dental emergency and their insurance has just stopped, they’re battling those concerns,” Bowden said. “Right now, we’re just focused on keeping those patients out of the ER, so the ER can deal with COVID and other medical emergencies versus dental emergencies.”
Despite the challenges the crisis presents, Bowden says he remains optimistic about what lies ahead.
“I’ve seen hard times in my life. I’m able to respond. I don’t get stressed out or depressed,” he said. “I just try to do everything I can do and do the right thing for my community.”