CHAPTER 3

TIMA USA National Headquarters Region

Part 3

Written by Jixin Lin, Shuli Lo, Wen Ren, Dilber Shatursun, and Rujing Zheng
Translated by Ariel Chan
Edited by Chenglin Li and Pheel Wang

The free dental care team in Las Vegas poses for a group shot. Photo/Ruijing Zheng

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Las Vegas

The Tzu Chi Free Clinic in Las Vegas began in 2000. Medical volunteers from the
Buddhist Tzu Chi Free Clinic in Alhambra, California (now the Buddhist Tzu Chi Health Center Alhambra, a Federally Qualified Health Center Look-Alike) went to Las Vegas to conduct the first free clinic and bone marrow donation registration for the local Chinese community at a trade center hall in Chinatown. One hundred fifty-five people participated in the free clinic, and 21 registered for bone marrow donation.

Although the Tzu Chi USA Las Vegas Service Center didn’t exist yet, the charity services performed by Tzu Chi volunteers in the general area had already created a reputation in the community. Therefore, the free clinic venue was provided free of charge by local restaurant owner James Cheng, who also informed the Las Vegas Times to publicize the free clinic news on the front page and report about the bone marrow donation event. Moreover, New Asian Weekly spread the free clinic news in two consecutive issues, sent leaflets to subscribers, and posted them throughout Chinatown. Local practicing doctors also brought Hispanic nurses to help translate and serve patients, jointly supporting the medical care work.

You Have Come

Tzu Chi’s first free clinic in Las Vegas occurred over 20 years ago. At that time, Tsuilin Valenzuela worked in a local hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit and didn’t have time to participate in this first free clinic. However, since then, her footprints have been part of every step of its development.

“My earliest encounter with Tzu Chi began with a magazine. When I came to the United States, I picked up Tzu Chi’s magazine, Tzu Chi Bimonthly, at a Chinese supermarket. I was very moved when I saw the stories in it. From then on, I started writing checks and mailing them to Tzu Chi USA,” Valenzuela recounted.

One day, she read in the newspaper that several students from National Chung Cheng University in Taiwan had an accident in Death Valley in the United States and ended up in the hospital where she worked. When she visited them, she found that volunteers from Tzu Chi were already at the hospital. The volunteers were very enthusiastic and warm in caring for the injured students, which was refreshing to her. There was no Tzu Chi Service Center in Las Vegas at that time. Still, Tzu Chi volunteers from Southern California insisted on caring for the group even if they had to travel far. They didn’t miss a day until the students were discharged and returned home.

“Not long after, when I was having dinner with friends, I heard someone say that Tzu Chi was coming to Las Vegas to set up a Service Center, but it would take 50 people to set it up, so we informed each other to come. I was one of the 50 people,” Valenzuela recalled. After gathering 50 people, the volunteers worked tirelessly to go to Las Vegas to give classes and training. “There was no Service Center at that time, so we met in the public library for routine meetings for a year,” Valenzuela said.

Regular free dental clinics are a life-saving service for the unhoused in Las Vegas. Photo/Ruijing Zheng

By 2002, a Tzu Chi Las Vegas Site was officially established (promoted to Tzu Chi Las Vegas Service Center in 2004). One day in 2003, William Keh, then the director of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Free Clinic in Alhambra, California, asked Valenzuela, “You’re a nurse; do you want to join TIMA?” They also found a local doctor named Henry Wong. When Dr. Wong heard this, he agreed on the spot and became the first convener of the local TIMA. “We needed a director-general here, and I served as the director-general of TIMA at that time,” Valenzuela said with a smile. In this way, they officially formed the TIMA Las Vegas chapter in 2003.

After Tzu Chi established the Las Vegas Service Center, it offered charity relief and care in the community, plus medical lectures. Valenzuela clearly remembers: “Our first medical lecture was on hypertension. We invited local doctor Weifeng Cheng to give the lecture. Nearly 60 people attended, and the response was very good.” Starting from these medical lectures, the community outreach activities of TIMA Las Vegas continued to branch out.

Do You Still Need a Dentist if You Have No Teeth?

Since 2012, TIMA Las Vegas has teamed up with multiple medical and charity groups to hold two health fairs at the Tzu Chi Las Vegas Service Center every year, providing free flu vaccinations to low-income or uninsured people, breast cancer screening, and assisting people to apply for food stamps, Medicaid and other services, especially in the early years when community medical care was scarce. The highest record showed that 230 people benefited, but this was only limited to consultation and assistance, as there was no physical diagnosis and treatment until Dr. David Ting showed up.

“If you’re poor, you can take care of yourself; if you’re successful, you can help the world,” Dr. Ting said. After decades of hard work, Ting transitioned from working on the front line in a dental clinic to becoming a manager and businessman, owning more than a dozen clinics in Nevada. Ting became connected with Tzu Chi when his two daughters attended Tzu Chi’s humanistic school. However, his love for Tzu Chi and his path to becoming the promoter and leader of Tzu Chi’s free dental clinics in Las Vegas stemmed from a trip to a faraway destination.

In 2014, Ting traveled to Iran. He took a tourist tour, and after driving to Bam Citadel, the car stopped, and the guide said: “Let’s take a rest stop here.” This place was in the middle of nowhere and quite deserted, but when he got out of the car, Ting saw a building in this remote area. The tour guide said: “A group from Taiwan built a girls’ school here.” Sure enough, as Ting looked around, he noticed Tzu Chi’s logo next to the building.

“In such a place with nothing, in a Muslim country, Tzu Chi actually built a school for girls so that girls can have the opportunity to receive education. This moved me very much,” Ting shared.

Dr. Ting has a daughter himself. Regardless of religious beliefs, he believes that girls should have the same right to education as boys. Reflecting on this, Ting felt that Tzu Chi’s provision of educational opportunities for Muslim girls was an immeasurable act of kindness. He suddenly felt that he should do something as well, so he reached out to Tsuilin Valenzuela.

“I’m somewhat successful now. Traveling and playing around like this, what is the meaning of my life? I also want to give back to society. So, what can I do?” he asked her. Valenzuela replied: “You’re a dentist. Do you want to make some contribution to your professional field?” And so the two began to plan a free dental clinic.

They told Kailun Zhang, the head of the Las Vegas Service Center at the time, about their ideas. Zhang suggested: “Should we go to Downtown Las Vegas (the birthplace of casinos on Fremont Street) to find people who need our free dental clinic services?” And they subsequently set this idea in motion.

When TIMA Las Vegas was preparing for a free dental clinic on December 7, 2014, Ting offered half a day in one of his dental clinics as the venue for the medical team and volunteers to conduct a “trial run” of a free clinic event.

On April 11, 2015, TIMA Las Vegas held its first free dental clinic to provide dental diagnosis and treatment services to people living on the streets. At the venue provided by the Catholic Church of Southern Nevada, nearly 100 men struggling with homelessness were finally able to smile after the free clinic. As the number of people coming to free dental clinic events continually increased, the team needed a larger space, so by the third clinic that year, the operation moved to the Salvation Army.

On September 29, 2019, street residents line up in long queues outside the free clinic jointly organized by TIMA Las Vegas and the Salvation Army. Photo/Ruijing Zheng

Although the doctors and nurses, revered as angels in white by many, are professionals trained to get along with all patients, they are all still only human beings. When the free dental clinic started, some doctors might understandably have been worried about close contact with unhoused patients living on the streets. But those individuals moved Valenzuela deeply.

They were all cleaned up, had put on their cleanest and best clothes to see the doctor, and came to show us their teeth. We were shocked and moved. Although unhoused today, they also have dignity, so we treat them respectfully.

Valenzuela remembers that once, as she was guiding one unhoused patient towards the dental treatment area, a dentist ran over and asked discreetly, somewhat embarrassed: “All his teeth have fallen out. Do you still want me to see him?” She thought for a moment, then replied, “Yes. Look to see if there is oral cancer.”

As night fell, the free dental clinic came to an end. A woman who was experiencing homelessness said to Valenzuela: “I haven’t had my teeth cleaned for more than ten years. I’m very grateful.” She smiled as she spoke, the orange sunset illuminating her face with a warm glow.

Tzu Chi now holds two to three free dental clinics annually in Las Vegas. In addition to calling on caring local doctors and dental assistants to provide free dental care, Tzu Chi USA’s medical team also mobilizes to transport medical chairs, X-ray machines, dental instruments, and sterilization equipment from elsewhere for support. Las Vegas volunteers also continue to go to Downtown Las Vegas to inform street residents about this free clinic service.

People who are unhoused struggle with the basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, where to sleep, and transportation. When medical issues arise, they can feel helpless and without a voice. When Tzu Chi volunteers visit people living in tents along the street, they will ask, “Excuse me, does anyone need free dental services?” One man responded, opening his mouth and laughing as he exclaimed: “I lost all my teeth a long time ago!”

Others were panic-stricken, sharing their woes when seeking help: “I want to go, but who can help me look after my property? This is all my property!” The volunteers looked at the tent cloth hanging on the big tree, the bottles and cans on the cart, and the dirty and torn clothes. They felt disheartened and could only encourage those they approached to guard each other’s property and take turns going to see a dentist.

To allow more people to benefit from free dental clinics, volunteers also invite various groups to recommend services to patients needing them at mainstream charity outreach events in Las Vegas. Therefore, in addition to unhoused individuals, the clinics also serve people from drug or alcohol treatment centers and domestic violence shelters for women and children. The goal is to ensure the Tzu Chi team won’t miss anyone suffering from a toothache or needing dental care.

An unhoused man who initially queued up to receive a free breakfast saw a volunteer coming to promote the free clinic event, so he quickly gave up breakfast to line up for a dental appointment instead: “I had teeth extracted last time, and I want to have my teeth cleaned today!” Due to time constraints, a patient can only request one service per day so that other patients can receive medical care. Kailun Zhang, then head of the Las Vegas Service Center, saw the man sweating as he rushed to the free clinic and gave him a ride to get there in time. Other street residents heard about the free clinic at the Salvation Army Activity Center and immediately came on their own to seek medical treatment.

Phoenix

At a clinic on February 16, 2008, volunteer Yiliang Lian explains the medical treatment process to waiting patients. Photo/Tzu Chi USA Phoenix Service Center

In Arizona, bordering Mexico, the capital, Phoenix, gathers people of different ethnicities and is a melting pot of new arrivals, especially those from Central and South America. Many of them are undocumented immigrants without status. They either have no medical insurance or don’t have the means to see a doctor. As a result, minor illnesses can turn into serious ones. 

Interstate and Transoceanic Love

In August 1995, a severe car accident occurred in Tucson, approximately two hours drive from Phoenix. The vehicle carrying a Taiwanese student, his wife, and his in-laws, who were visiting, overturned on the road. The accident resulted in one fatality and five people sustaining varying degrees of injuries. Upon learning of the family’s distress, Meiyue Lin, a regular donor to Tzu Chi who was originally from Taiwan and now residing in Phoenix, took the initiative to contact the Phoenix hospital where the injured were and inquire about their needs and those of their families. Hearing about this care from Lin, other donors contributed money and effort, taking turns cooking and caring for the injured and consoling their families. (That year, Tzu Chi mobilized local resources to assist in this accident and another major Grand Canyon plane crash. This effort led to the Tzu Chi USA Phoenix Service Center’s establishment in 1996, with Lin becoming its first coordinator.)

The case of those severely injured in this car accident became one of the models for Tzu Chi’s medical volunteer work in the United States. The student’s father-in-law, Mr. Tsai, was paralyzed from the neck down and depended on an oxygen machine for breathing, while his mother-in-law passed away at the scene of the accident. Tzu Chi volunteers from the Tzu Chi USA chapter (now Tzu Chi USA National Headquarters) immediately flew to Phoenix to visit and share the caregiving responsibilities for the injured.

Since the hospital refused to allow Tsai to stay there for treatment due to insurance issues, and he also hoped to return to Taiwan to reunite with his relatives and friends, Phoenix volunteers worked with the Tzu Chi USA chapter to resolve his medical and personal concerns. Firstly, they obtained financial support locally in Phoenix, raising over $30,000 in donations. Subsequently, the Tzu Chi Free Clinic in Alhambra, acting on behalf of Tzu Chi, urgently negotiated with the hospital in Phoenix. They swiftly arranged the special procedures necessary for the severely injured patient to leave the country and coordinated with the airline for all the matters concerning his international transfer. Within ten days, the volunteers had completed everything required for Tsai’s transport home across borders.

After Dr. Mingchang Hsu, a physician from the Tzu Chi Free Clinic in Alhambra, discussed with Tsai’s attending physician, he learned about the need for a ventilator, head support, and feeding equipment. Dr. Hsu, along with free clinic volunteer team leader, Debra Boudreaux, planned and arranged for the necessary support. They also discussed the possibility of Tsai seeking medical treatment in Taiwan with Dr. Chinlong Lin (the first director of the Tzu Chi Free Clinic in Alhambra, who later returned to Taiwan and served at Dalin Tzu Chi Hospital). Simultaneously, they coordinated the arrangements for Tsai’s return to Taiwan and other matters with Tzu Chi Taipei.

On the early morning of October 29, nine volunteers from the Free Clinic set out in two groups to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to await Tsai’s arrival. Around nine o’clock, Tsai landed at a nearby private airstrip on a small medical aircraft equipped with various life-saving devices. The volunteers assisted the paramedics in transferring Tsai to LAX via ambulance. Three volunteers from the Free Clinic helped the paramedics place Tsai in the ambulance, offering comfort and reassurance to ease his mind. Medical personnel and two volunteers accompanied him to the aircraft, connecting the ventilator to the in-flight life support system. Thanks to their wholehearted cooperation, the volunteers completed the extraordinary task of transporting this critical patient safely.

Tsai’s eldest daughter expressed gratitude for the immense help received from Tzu Chi. Facing such a significant accident in the United States, the family not only needed assistance with the substantial medical expenses but also had to cope with the aftermath of their mother’s passing. Tzu Chi’s proactive assistance during their most helpless moments was truly appreciated. The warmth extended in a foreign land left the family with nothing but thankfulness, especially to Meiyue Lin and her husband, who unconditionally covered all their living expenses. “I will always remember this kindness,” Tsai’s daughter said.

Since then, the Tzu Chi USA chapter (now Tzu Chi USA National Headquarters) in San Dimas has strongly supported the Phoenix Service Center, holding medical consultations and free clinics and providing case care at various stages. Although the two locations are over 300 miles apart, making a round trip on the same day difficult, the compassionate doctors from both places selflessly contribute to medical services, tirelessly shuttling between the locations.

On February 16, 2008, patients wait for treatment under a tent outside the Phoenix Service Center. Photo/Tzu Chi USA Phoenix Service Center

An Infusion of Care Blooms in the Desert State

The Tzu Chi USA Phoenix Service Center is dedicated to medical and emergency relief work. Tzu Chi volunteers here adhere to Master Cheng Yen’s teachings to keep their heads above the clouds in the sky and their feet on the ground as they progress step by step, building capacity brick by brick. In December 1996, less than a year after its establishment, the Service Center joined one of the 24-hour emergency rescue organizations operating in the area and now receives, on average, one to two hundred cases annually. Not only does the Phoenix Service Center have the most Tzu Chi charity cases in the United States, but it also combines charity relief with medical treatment. Despite a small number of volunteers, the Service Center’s activities have made a big difference. Even before its founding anniversary, it provided medical consultation and basic health examination services to low-income households in the community and people without health insurance.

TIMA Phoenix conducts blood tests for bone marrow donation during the 1999 Phoenix Chinese Week event. Photo/Tzu Chi USA Phoenix Service Center

Starting from events providing blood tests toward bone marrow donation, the Phoenix Service Center gradually accumulated experience and resources in organizing large-scale medical events. In addition to providing health consultation to low-income households in the Service Center on weekdays, it has also participated in the Phoenix Chinese Week event since 1997, setting up stalls on site to introduce Tzu Chi’s missions and provide free medical consultation as local Chinese celebrate the Lunar New Year.

Since then, volunteers in Phoenix work for three consecutive days every year for the Phoenix Chinese Week event, carefully preparing to offer charity sales, sign language performances, and medical consultations.

On April 5, 1998, the Phoenix Service Center marked its second anniversary. In addition to the celebration and programs offered as an expression of thanks, many local physicians from family medicine, medical oncology, pediatric oncology, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and acupuncture provided consultations at the venue.

Stephen Huang, then CEO of the Tzu Chi USA chapter, William Keh, then head of Tzu Chi’s Long Island Service Center, and others made a memorable trip to offer their blessings. The Phoenix Service Center invited many people it had cared for to attend the event. One of them, an Afghan who had received medical assistance from Tzu Chi, expressed his gratitude to the Buddhist Tzu Chi Free Clinic in Alhambra, California, as he had been referred there through the Phoenix Service Center for eye surgery.

On February 16, 1999, the TIMA Phoenix chapter was officially established and participated in the three-day Phoenix Chinese Week event. Tzu Chi volunteers thoughtfully designed a carnival, presenting a perfect combination of charity sales, sign language performances, and medical consultations. Huang came to Phoenix and took the stage to advocate for blood testing for bone marrow donation during the carnival. Dr. Gayle Robert was in charge of the medical booth, with several doctors and nurses providing free health consultations and blood tests for bone marrow donation for people attending the event. More than a dozen volunteers were also on-site to explain and facilitate, leading people to the Tzu Chi booth to fill out forms for blood testing, resulting in a fruitful outcome.

After establishing TIMA Phoenix, professional healthcare providers and enthusiastic medical volunteers formed a strong team. They conduct one to two annual free community medical consultation events for residents in need. Over the years, the program has expanded to include internal medicine, gynecology, pediatrics, oncology, dentistry, acupuncture, ophthalmic examinations, and influenza vaccinations, among other service areas. In the early stages, Dr. Robert led the initiative, and later, Dr. Ruth Tan Lim, a dedicated coordinator for the medical association, worked tirelessly. Due to Dr. Lim’s contributions to both local health care and the arts, the community recognized her efforts. Consequently, more local physicians and groups were inspired to join, contributing to medical consultations and basic health check-ups, benefiting numerous families in need.

Sleeping on the Carpet

Although the Phoenix Service Center was small in the early days, it played a significant role. In addition to participating in food bank activities, the number of cases it handled ranked the highest among Tzu Chi USA regional chapters. The space was indeed limited, but it had all the crucial features.

In August 2002, Austin Tsao, then CEO of Tzu Chi USA, Dr. Eugene Taw, Dr. Peter Zhang, Luen Li, and Trisha Yeh, a group of five people, came to a homeless shelter run by the Primavera Foundation in Tucson. Alongside TIMA Phoenix doctors, including Dr. Gail Robert and Dr. Ruth Tan Lim, they held the first Tzu Chi free clinic at the shelter, which had up to 100 beds. It was the first time outsiders could hold a free clinic event here. Although only about 20 people came to see a doctor, the volunteers left a very good impression, laying a base for future free clinics.

After the event, several doctors shared their experiences and discussed enthusiastically drawing blueprints for future free clinics. That night, more than 20 people slept on the carpet in the Phoenix Service Center, their hearts filled with abundant love and gratitude.

The Flame Becomes a Red Lotus

Tzu Chi’s large-scale community medical outreach in Phoenix has benefited many residents during the 20 years from 1999 to 2019. Due to an increase in the number of large-scale Hispanic charity medical institutions in recent years and investments from Native American groups running gambling businesses near urban areas, social welfare medical care has dramatically improved. There are more opportunities for daily medical visits and consultations, so fewer families need large-scale community medical outreach. Still, Tzu Chi and TIMA volunteers knew unmet needs persisted in low-income communities.

The TIMA Phoenix chapter has always wished to purchase dental equipment and hold free dental clinics for the community since dentistry is one of the many services offered in free clinic activities. However, due to a lack of complete dental equipment, doctors can only provide oral and dental health consultations and medical advice on-site, and not the treatments people need most.

To purchase sophisticated dental equipment, in the spring of 2022, the Phoenix Service Center holds a walking charity fundraising event. Although the road uphill is difficult, everyone gathers their strength and moves forward together. Photo/Tzu Chi USA Phoenix Service Center

On June 26, 2022, the Phoenix Service Center finally held its first Tzu Chi free dental clinic event. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation, more and more families are struggling financially. The number of families who come to the Service Center to receive fruit and vegetable food bags has doubled. There is an urgent need to combine charity and medical care. The free clinic, which provides substantial dental treatment, targets families, low-income households, and disadvantaged groups who come to receive food supplies.

In the scorching midsummer heat, outdoor temperatures in Phoenix can reach over 110 degrees Fahrenheit, as they did that day. Yet, the warmth of good intentions in the hearts of Tzu Chi volunteers on the occasion of their first free dental clinic here was much hotter. This time, the free dental clinic broke through the previous dilemma of lack of equipment and could finally provide substantive dental diagnosis and treatment to people in need. After experiencing this extremely challenging free clinic event, the volunteers finally realized the wish they had formulated many years ago. The Phoenix Service Center had also taken a big step forward in offering charity medical care, spreading its wings like a phoenix on fire, preparing to take on even greater missions.

This was Phoenix’s first Tzu Chi dental free clinic. Because it was so hot, everyone was sweating profusely, but that didn’t stop them from putting their heart and soul into the work.

Ren Liu thanked the volunteers who came to the venue early in the morning to prepare so that patients who had also arrived early and queued up could register for treatment. He was an important promoter of this free clinic. After later assuming the role of head of the Service Center, he has been working hard to implement the free dental clinic, hoping to improve the oral health problems of disadvantaged families and long-term care residents.

In 2021, the volunteers happily responded to fundraising calls, organizing tea parties, walking activities and tours, and more, and successfully raised over $200,000 in donations. “The fundraising at this stage was to purchase medical equipment for the free clinic in Phoenix, including three sets of portable dental diagnosis and treatment equipment and two sets of ophthalmology equipment,” Liu explained. “The ophthalmology services can now provide a free pair of glasses within 48 hours after the vision examination. In the future, the Vision Mobile Clinic will have lens grinding equipment and can provide a free pair of glasses within two hours,” he said.

After Tzu Chi USA National Headquarters offered support toward obtaining hardware equipment, yet it was still to be purchased, the next step was to recruit and train medical volunteers. With assistance from National Headquarters, the Phoenix volunteers initially participated in online training. To enhance their understanding of free clinic operations, Liu led the free clinic team to Fresno, California, and Las Vegas, Nevada, to participate in Tzu Chi’s free clinic activities there so the volunteers could learn on the go.

The day before the first free dental clinic, Tzu Chi USA National Headquarters sent a truck to bring dental treatment equipment and medical supplies. The volunteers work hard to transport and arrange everything properly. Photos/Tzu Chi USA Phoenix Service Center

In 2022, the day before the first free dental clinic, seven TIMA USA National Headquarters Region volunteers and a truck loaded with medical equipment came across state lines to support the event. When they arrived, it was already the hottest part of the day, yet with two experienced volunteers on the team, one in charge of the free clinic, Min Leu, and the other responsible for the transportation and installation of medical equipment, J.D. Chen, it took only about two hours to work with Phoenix volunteers to put all the equipment and computer systems in place. With that, the preparatory work was ready.

“We brought most of the dental equipment because Phoenix does not yet have complete equipment. We hope to help them start free dental clinics so they can hold them regularly in the future,” Sylvia Wihardjo, in charge of medical equipment management, said. She overcame all difficulties in bringing dental treatment chairs, professional dental equipment, and all the necessary appliances to Phoenix.

“This free clinic not only provided medical help to low-income patients directly, but also allowed more people to know Tzu Chi and become one of us. Through free clinics, we can see the active participation of community residents in Tzu Chi activities and our ongoing ‘Bodhisattva Enrollment,’” TIMA dentist Shirley Chen, who came to offer support, said.

On June 26, 2022, Joe Chang (left), a professor from a dental school in Phoenix, and TIMA dentist Shirley Chen (right) work together to clean patients’ teeth. Photo/Jennifer Chien

Thanks to everyone’s willing efforts, the free clinic was successful and helped many people. At the same time, many community doctors and volunteers pledged to join Tzu Chi’s activities, too. Tzu Chi volunteers David T. Chiang (who participated in Tzu Chi USA Central Region’s free dental clinics many times in his early years) and his wife Jenny Chen, a dentist, immediately returned to the team after learning that Phoenix would provide patients with substantial diagnosis and dental treatment, no longer limited to just oral hygiene education and care. Wenhsiu Wang, a local veteran dentist who has a connection with Tzu Chi, also responded immediately.

Dr. Joe Chang and his wife, Dr. Jenna Y. Lau, both dentists who teach at a dentistry school near the Phoenix Service Center, responded too. They saw the Tzu Chi free dental clinic information online and immediately signed up, bringing three students. Seeing patients’ suffering firsthand and their happiness following treatment moved the students. Word of mouth spread after they returned to school, so at the second free dental clinic, as many as 13 dental school students participated. Dr. Chang has since volunteered to help the Service Center provide fruit and vegetable food bags to those in need on Saturday mornings. He assists in food packaging, distribution, and purchasing at supermarkets beforehand. His volunteering story is the best example of how being moved inspires people to act.

The large-scale dental free clinic also resonated with other organizations. Due to years of cooperation in distributing fruit and vegetable boxes, three hygienists and three volunteer translators from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to support the large-scale free dental clinic in the spring of 2023. The six caring volunteers saw Tzu Chi at work and were impressed by the team’s dedication during the preparation, aftermath, and entire free clinic process. They subsequently brought a positive report about Tzu Chi’s medical outreach to the Church.

Soon after, representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to the Phoenix Service Center for a visit and sharing. Since then, the two parties have exchanged visits and cooperated. More volunteers from the Church come to help on fruit and vegetable stocking days, and the Church puts our dental free clinic information on its community platform to recruit medical volunteers. Additionally, the Church donated $10,000 in food, clothing, socks, shoes, toys, and more to the Service Center.

Tzu Chi has also become integrated into interfaith meetings and activities. At the 2023 United Food Bank Annual Partner Agency Conference on September 21, United Food Bank selected Tzu Chi USA’s Phoenix Service Center as one of nine award-winning organizations among more than 100 food distribution organizations. The community recognized our charitable fruit and vegetable bag distributions and free dental clinics. Moreover, in November, by invitation, Tzu Chi led people in prayer for three wishes before the end of interfaith concerts in two cities. That night, the organizer donated all the online donation funds to the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation.

I’m very grateful that we can cooperate with Tzu Chi. I believe that no matter your faith, the most important thing is that we’re compassionate and serve the public: This is the greatest happiness.

Under the pressure of the pandemic and inflation in the past two years, most patients who come to free clinics have challenging lives and financial constraints and can’t afford dental treatment. Most of them usually adopt a passive approach to deal with dental problems as long as they can tolerate it. The large-scale dental free clinics help them solve chronic diseases that have troubled them for many years, so when they leave, in addition to being grateful, they also look forward to returning for treatment in the future. Tzu Chi volunteers serving in the Phoenix area cooperate across religious divides, integrate congregations’ love and community resources, combine charity and medical care, and go deep into the community to relieve suffering and bring hope and happiness.

On April 2, 2023, six caring members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints support Tzu Chi’s third large-scale free dental clinic. Photo/Tzu Chi USA Phoenix Service Center

TIMA USA
National Headquarters Region

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