How Children's Volunteer Health Network Works

When people can't afford health care, they go without.
When people can't afford health care, they go without.

Florida's Emerald Coast -- the northwest portion of the state that lies along its panhandle -- is home to the beautiful beaches of Destin and Ft. Walton. With soft, bright-white sand consisting of finely ground quartz shipped down from the Appalachian region, the beaches are a favorite stop for tourists and their dollars.

The Emerald Coast region inspires thoughts in countless minds of picking up and moving to the beach for good, but for those who do live in the counties in northwest Florida, life isn't a never-ending sunset or bottomless frozen drink. Beach or no beach, jobs are scarce in the area, and many available positions are relatively low-paying jobs in the service industry. The largest contributor to the local economy is Eglin Air Force Base, the largest Air Force base in the world.

Even before the national economic meltdown of 2008, many families in northwest Florida couldn't afford comprehensive health care or health insurance. And just like many families all over America, the inability of many Floridians in two coastal counties -- Okaloosa and Walton -- to secure health insurance meant that general checkups went unscheduled and medical services weren't received. Instead, time and hope served as self-prescriptions for pain and illness. More than one in five kids in Walton County are uninsured, and three out of five are without dental insurance [source: CVHN].

Back in 2005, when one child in the area needed orthodontic treatment that his family couldn't afford, a member of a local church did some brainstorming. Instead of raising money from other community or church members to pay for the child's treatment, Tricia Carlisle-Northcutt decided to reach out directly to the medical community. After working the phones, Carlisle-Northcutt lined up a nearby orthodontist willing to volunteer his services.

The child, whose then-jumbled mouth of teeth had been the cause of self-consciousness, ridicule and eventually behavioral problems, received the treatment he needed, and both his academics and behavior in the classroom improved. The young boy's life took on an upward trajectory, and so too did a new program: Children's Volunteer Health Network.