By David N. Young
Long before he became a dentist, then a businessman, the parents of Dr. John Blake told the high school student to volunteer at what was then the only location of the Children’s Dental Health Clinic in Long Beach to perhaps help him figure out what he wanted to do in life.
Several decades later, he is still there, having built and sold a successful dental practice, participating in several business ventures and becoming a top legislative advocate in Sacramento.
“For me, it is the most rewarding thing I’ve done,” said Blake this week as he guided tours for islanders, donors and others who participated in the facility open house this past Saturday.
The nonprofit clinic provides dental care and education to a population that generally cannot afford the services in the private sector.
As a volunteer at the CDHC in high school, Blake said the impression of seeing the impact of the clinic’s work on children who need inspired him to become a dentist.
Blake graduated with his business undergraduate degree from USC then proceeded to dental school at the University of the Pacific, from which he graduated in 1988.
Even while he built his practice in Long Beach, he remained involved with the CDHC. After he sold his practice twelve years ago, Blake became the Executive Director of the nonprofit, a position he continues to hold today.
“Why did I come back, well it was too late in life to make for guitar playing or surfing,” he jokes. Blake say the appreciation of the children who leave the clinic with a smile and the gratitude of the parents has been, and remains, a compelling motivation to him.
Blake was involved with the clinic when citizens and a fellow dentist and former CDF president Dr. Lynn Fasnacht discovered a “great need” for these dental services on Catalina.
Fasnacht invited Blake to accompany him on an exploratory trip to Catalina and the rest is history.
“We’re not here to compete with the private sector,” he notes, adding the clinic cooperates with island dentists and provides services only with verified financial information.
Residents of the island who knew about the clinic (Hannah Gough) in Long Beach began taking some kids there for treatment, but the need for a clinic on the island soon became obvious. Parents couldn’t afford to take a day off to go to Long Beach, some couldn’t afford the ferry, etc.
Blake says the clinic got its start in a donated, bubble type one-seat trailer, which the clinic operated for many years.
Doctors and support staff would come over on the ferry on appointed days, as cooperating staff on the island would screen the children and prepare them for the work.
Years later, after the construction of a new gym, the company building the facility0 had an old construction trailer that they did not want to ship back to the mainland so the CDHC managed to take ownership of it.
Again, with the help of many volunteers, the construction trailer was converted and became the new office for CDHC, now operating with two chairs. Blake said this provided significantly more space and lasted for two decades.
The clinic has always been located very near the Avalon school which he said was very helpful.
Soon, however, the clinic needed the grow again. In addition, the clinic needed to upgrade to electronic and digital equipment.
Into this scenario steps Patty Ann McKinnon, the so-called “Avalon Angel,” who quite by chance heard about the need and became the lead donor in the effort to build a new clinic and equip it with state of the art equipment.
It was this state-of-the-art facility in which Blake gave tours this Saturday. After 30 years, the clinic is now serving a 2nd generation. “We’re seeing children of the children we once served,” said Blake. “It’s a great feeling.”
Blake said children of the underserved communities no longer have to live in pain or put their “hands over their mouths” because they were ashamed of their teeth. “It’s hard to put into words what it does for their self-esteem,” said Blake.
Patients in need of hospitalization or more complicated procedures are brought to the Long Beach clinic, but Blake says most dental work can now be done on site. Some of the best dental professionals from the area volunteer for service and the generally come to Catalina on their days off to serve the children.
After treating thousands of children, he said the CDHC now begins treating a new generation of children with a state-of-the-art clinic. “We’re not looking back,” he said.