Since 2015, Michael Carabash has earned the MVP of organizing large groups of Canadian volunteers from Ontario, Toronto to join 1000 Smiles. Not only does he help recruit dental professionals, but he’s been instrumental in our partnership with Univ. of Western Ontario. In 2019, he shared a very substantial donation to Great Shape! that allowed us to purchase eight ADEC units for our dental clinics in Grenada.
How did you first hear about Great Shape! Inc. and the 1000 Smiles dental project?
It was on my 33rd b-day. I was at Sandals in Negril for fun with my wife and baby. I had just left my wife to put our baby (also named Michael) to bed in the room so I could hang out with some friends / clients we had invited to the resort for that day (Dr. Christina Bodea and her husband Stefan Atalick). It was around 10:00 p.m. at night and I hadn’t received my b-day wish. We were all drinking at the bar. That’s when I decided to show Christina and Stefan my best card trick. I needed a volunteer. I asked the bartender, who then called out to Papa Joe. Papa Joe – wearing a bright orange shirt and talking with a group of others wearing bright orange shirts – was my volunteer. The card trick went as planned and then I asked him what he does and he replied back that he leads a group of North American dentists to do free volunteer work for locals and that the Sandals Foundation gives over 1-million dollars worth of free accommodations and amenities to make the program happen. It was a lightbulb moment: this was my b-day wish. I had been researching how to help organize a dental mission trip for the months leading up to that trip, but I had no clue on how to do it. I asked Papa Joe to show me the makeshift dental practices and the next day he took me and Parastou (my wife) on a tour. He probably didn’t think much of that meeting (I figure he must do a lot of these tours for interested guests), but for me, it was life-altering. From that moment onwards, my goal was to bring down Canadian dental volunteers, connect Great Shape! Inc. with Canadian dental schools, promote the program to anyone who would listen (including presenting to dental hygiene students at the Oregon Institute of Technology), get equipment and sundry donations, and even make financial donations to help this most worthy cause.
Why have you been so motivated to help recruit dental volunteers for 1000 Smiles?
Running a law business, making money, helping clients by negotiating and preparing paperwork is only satisfying to a degree, but it’s missing the human element: the ability to help others on a more personal level. Since I am not a dentist, I cannot improve someone’s physiological condition with my hands. But what I can do is help to bring much-needed resources together (volunteers, equipment, sundries, money, etc.) and also help to run the program so that others can make that difference for those who really need it. Plus, by being involved in this program, it humanizes us lawyers, helps us better understand how our client’s business works, and allows us to gift our dentists what they really need (namely, the opportunity to give back at some stage in their careers). Case in point, when TD Banker Ann Bengert retired, she said at her retirement party in front of everyone that the highlight of her illustrious 35+ years at the bank was having the bank sponsor her to travel with me to Negril in 2018. She had the time of her life. I didn’t realize it meant that much to her. Everyone around her was so proud of her volunteer work that she even won a bank award for coming down. And when I came back from Grenada in 2019, a volunteer told me that she never thought she could have kids until she hung out with other volunteers and a three year old patient that she fell in love with at our clinic. The experience changed her and prepared for the next step in her journey: to be a wife and a mother.
Why was it important to you to make such a significant contribution to help purchase ADEC units for Grenada?
First, I wanted to improve the program in light of the experiences and feedback from the previous year’s trip in Grenada (which saw about 20 University of Western Ontario dental students come down with lawyers from my firm and some of our clients – Dr. Daniel Biner and his two sons Dr. Barry Biner and Dr. Steven Biner). Through our client network and partnership with the Oregon Institute of Technology dental hygiene school (run by Sharon Crawford) and the University of Toronto dental school (again, with Dr. Daniel Biner’s help), we were able to get a massive influx of volunteers coming down to Grenada for the second year. But this meant we needed more/bigger clinics, many more chairs, ADEC units, cavitrons, etc. So we donated USD$1,000 to Great Shape! Inc. to help rent out the national stadium there to set up a 20-op clinic to have everyone there together (this would help operationally). And we also made deals with our dentist clients such that, when we sold their practice, they would buy and donate cavitrons to our mission trip and come down as well (we ended up donating six brand new portable cavitrons that each cost about CAD$2500). To get the ADEC units, my wife and I also agreed to sponsor CAD$30k towards Great Shape! Inc. buying these units so that we could have the 20 ops that we needed. Without these volunteers, equipment donations, and financial contribution, the 2nd year program in Grenada would not have been as successful as it was. And it will be better and bigger in future years because of these donations.
What has been the best part of volunteering with 1000 Smiles?
Personally, I love all of it. In addition to my family and law firm, it’s the thing I’m most proud of. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. It gives me a legacy and purpose above just being a dental lawyer. It’s a lot of work to help arrange for volunteers, supplies, equipment, and finances to be used for a mission like this. I like hearing the stories at the end of the trip and thereafter about how it changed people’s lives, their perspectives and how it made them realize what’s important in life. It’s also very addictive. That’s part of the reason why, for me, it’s a year-long investment that I have to make. From promoting it everywhere I go, to helping convince strangers to come down and make friends, to securing equipment and sundries, to helping others get flights, to actually coming down, to helping to organize the clinics within a team environment, and to making sure things work as best as they possibly can. It’s extremely challenging when you think about all the moving parts and it can only get better the more we devote ourselves to this worthy cause.
What do you hope to see for Great Shape! and the DMC partnership in the next few years?
Last year, we were able to get new ADEC units and cavitrons donated to the program. Next year, we hope to donate about CAD$50k worth of additional new equipment (including slow speed / high speed handpieces, Schick Sensors for the portable x-rays that we use, and curing lights) that Great Shape! Inc. has been requesting. Given the success of the program with the Canadian dental schools (namely, University of Toronto and University of Western Ontario), we believe the relationship and demand for the program will continue to grow strong. We will most definitely see more of our Canadian dentists and Oregon hygiene students participate given all the positive feedback from the past few years.In the immediate future, I’d like to be involved in expanding the dental program to Turks & Caicos (where my wife and I participated in the Great Shape! Inc. iCARE program and believe it would do quite well there with dental). And I’ve got my eye on the Philippines as well, as we have a number of dentists and hygienists of Filipino descent who have connections over there and who’d love for us to organize something in their country.