The Meadville Area Water Authority’s intention to decide if fluoride should be added to its water will not change the educational effort launched by the group in favor of the move, but it does create added urgency.
The Community Initiative for Improved Dental Health has worked to educate the public about this issue for several years, beginning its efforts as a community survey demonstrated that lack of access to affordable dental care is among the top health issues in Crawford County. As the community survey was completed, medical authorities conducted research that showed dental pain is among the top reasons for visits to Meadville Medical Center’s emergency room. Typically these cases are due to a lack of prior preventative care, the research showed.
As part of the effort to show how adding fluoride to the public water system may help, Dave Roncolato, director of Civic Engagement at Allegheny College, teaches a community justice studies class where experienced upperclass students passionate about issues of community justice immerse themselves in current community initiatives. They are provided with three topic options: LGBTQ+ inclusion, food access and water fluoridation. Julia Kemp, a junior, was among those who found themselves passionate about fluoridation.
“Before the class I didn’t know that Meadville didn’t have fluoride,” Kemp said. “I wanted to be in the fluoride group because it was urgent.”
As student representatives involved with the Community Initiative, students attend monthly meetings to learn more about the group and what it hopes to accomplish. Attendees at the monthly meetings have included Dr. Denise Johnson, chief medical officer of Meadville Medical Center; Dr. Raymond Leung, a local pediatrician; Dick Astor, former chairman of the Meadville Medical Center Board of Directors and former Conneaut School District superintendent; and others.
“As a group we attended monthly meetings and listened to what was going on. We also met with the dental club on campus to figure out ways to best present our information,” said Kemp. The student group collaborated with members of the Community Initiative and worked to organize presentations to inform the community. During Kemp’s involvement, the students did a presentation at a community event and at a public housing development.
In addition to presenting to area residents, the student group with the Community Initiative prepared a presentation for the Meadville Area Water Authority board meeting on April 20. The group was allotted three minutes during the “public comments” portion of the meeting to present information.
Johnson attended the April 20 meeting as both an advocate for the Community Initiative and as a resource the students addressing the board.
“They did a great job projecting their passion,” Johnson said of the students, and she believes that the students’ work played a strong role in the water authority’s willingness to move the issue forward this fall.
Moving forward, plans are to continue efforts like these.
“Outreach and communication and education is key,” Roncolato said. “We think that an educated community is our greatest asset. Wherever we can do education initiatives we will move forward and do so. Part of what I’m going to be doing in the meantime is continuing looking at my tubes of toothpaste and thinking about the people who don’t have the benefit of getting fluoride on a daily basis.”
Emerald Wright-Collie graduated from Allegheny College this month with a degree in communication arts and a minor in journalism in the public interest. This story was written as part of her coursework.