Dental coalition kicks off fund drive

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A local charity bankrupted by embezzlement is beginning a fund drive to revitalize itself.

The Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition began an effort Tuesday to raise the $15,000 necessary to cover the debts incurred because of the alleged actions of Robin McKenzie, the former executive director of the coalition.

McKenzie was arrested on March 27 and is charged with felony and misdemeanor theft. Authorities allege she embezzled more than $30,000 from the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition and more than $300 from Moffat County Partners while working with the organizations.

McKenzie served as executive director of the dental coalition from June of 2000 until March of this year, when she joined Partners as an employee.

The dental coalition's new executive director, Debi Garoutte, and the coalition's board are attempting to recover from the alleged monetary losses. The organization needs $15,000 to pay debts left over from McKenzie's alleged mismanagement, including $2,800 owed in back taxes to the Internal Revenue Service and $9,003 owed to the Bank of Colorado in a loan that is covering an unauthorized wire transfer McKenzie allegedly made to cover a coalition debt.

Now the dental coalition is asking the communities it serves to help it rebuild itself.

"We want people to know what we are about, and ask them to help us recover," Garoutte said. "The dental coalition is a non-profit organization that serves Routt, Moffat, and Rio Blanco counties. Our main goal is to provide dental care for as many children as we can and plan to reach others through education and prevention programs.

"Unfortunately, there are many children in our tri-county area that have no access to dental care. These children come from families who 'fall through the cracks.' The families make too much money to qualify for public assistance, such as Medicaid, but on the flip side, they do not make enough money or have the ability to afford private dentistry. By teaming up with Kids In Need of Dentistry we have been able to offer eligible children comprehensive dental services via a mobile dental clinic, as well as dental education and public awareness on issues of oral health neglect in under-served populations."

The goal is to raise the $15,000 in two weeks, and to that end Garoutte is appearing on KRAI 93.3 FM, organizing a commercial with K27FA Channel 27 and is having donation information replayed on the information ticker on digital television offered by the local AT&T office. All these media outlets are donating their services to the coalition.

After appearing on KRAI for the first time Tuesday morning, donations totaled $250 after one hour, Garoutte said. This morning on the radio the organization raised an additional $1,805.

The coalition board members to date have donated more than $600 of their own money.

In reaction to the alleged embezzlement, the coalition has completed a reorganization that was required by the Moffat County and Routt County United Way offices. The United Way offices held a combined $25,000 in operational funding until changes were made. On April 5, the Moffat County United Way sent a letter to the coalition asking for several changes. They were:

o A complete audit of accounting records for fiscal year 2000 and 2001

o Policy and procedures are in place for both the board of directors and the executive director

o A plan of action for financial responsibility and basic accounting procedures

o A plan of action to move forward, addressing your goals and objectives

o A plan to address the shortfall of funds

o Board training provided by United Way

o The United Way allocations and executive boards meet with the board of directors of the dental coalition

Garoutte said she was dropping off and faxing the paperwork concerning the required changes to the United Way Offices Tuesday.

The Moffat County United Way Allocations board will meet Thursday and review the dental coalition's submission, and then make a recommendation to the United Way board, Moffat County United Way Executive Director Corrie Scott said.

The dental coalition board now stands at eight members and is looking to expand.

"We have one new board member, Elaine Sullivan, and we're looking for more people to get involved." Garoutte said. "We want a more board that's more representative of the three counties we serve, with a minimum of 12 members."

People who join the coalition board who do not live in or near Craig could attend board meetings by teleconferencing, Garoutte said.

Statistics provided by the Dental Coalition of Northwest Colorado show that as of January 2002, 1,182 children in Routt, Moffat, and Rio Blanco counties are eligible for the dental assistance. Medicaid covers an additional 1,160 children, but to receive treatment they need to travel to Glenwood Springs or Grand Junction.

Garoutte said that dental health is about more than pretty smiles. "Diseases of the mouth can affect an individuals health along with the ability to speak, chew, and swallow, not to mention it can be extremely painful," she said. "Did you know that dental decay in children is the most chronic disease they have, yet it is 100% preventable?

"I believe in the dental coalition and it's purpose. If we cannot raise the $15,000 to pay off our debt, the coalition will not be able to move forward. What we have worked so hard to gain could easily slip away if we do not act quickly and the victims will be the children. I have been here less than a month, yet in that month I have received phone calls from mothers who have children with teeth rotting out, asking for help. The urgency in their tone as I'm trying to comfort them has instilled a drive in me to fight for the cause."

If the coalition does recover, Garoutte said she will be pursuing government and foundation grants to fund a permanent dental clinic for the area. Equipment is ready to be donated and with the funds Garoutte has discovered with only initial research, a facility and staff could be organized and funded, she said.

"Creating a dental clinic is our major project once we are on our feet again," Garoutte said. "There are hundreds of grants, but Robin never pursued any. Right now, we want to concentrate on getting ourselves back together and serving the clients that need our help. But as soon as we're in good shape, we will be working to make that clinic a reality."

Those interested in making donations can do so at the Bank of Colorado located in Craig and at the Alpine Bank in Steamboat Springs. Donations can also be mailed or dropped off directly to the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition at 439 Breeze Street, Suite 102, Craig. For more information about the organization, its services or its reorganization, or to inquire about joining the board, call 824-1178.

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