Last July, former Half Moon Bay Recreation Supervisor Dirk Alvarado was laid off when the city to San Carlos.
Now — less than six months later — Alvarado has returned to Half Moon Bay in a new role: as Executive Director of , a nonprofit community clinic which provides oral care and dental education for low income residents along the Half Moon Bay Coastside from Montara to Pescadero.
"I'm excited to be back on the coast working for an organization I have a lot of respect for," he said on Tuesday.
Located in an unassuming corner of the shopping complex at Highway 1 and 92, the clinic provides dental care and education in their offices and at offsite locations such as , preschools in and Half Moon Bay and at all schools in the .
"Every child in the district gets a dental screening once a year from Sonrisas, regardless of whether they already have dental insurance or not," Alvarado said.
Last year, the clinic served 1,400 individuals of all backgrounds and ages over the course of 4,500 visits, according to Alvarado.
"I believe that if it wasn't for our clinic, a lot of people would not otherwise be served," he said.
Because the clinic accepts patients who are not covered by San Mateo County's insurance plans for low income residents, Alvarado says that Sonrisas has become somewhat of a safety net for individuals — including those that are homeless — who are not covered in the county's system.
"From my time on the coast, you can see individuals with teeth missing or deteriorating. In the clinic we see patients at seven or eight years old with deteriorating teeth," he said. "But once we get them in we educate them on how to take care of their teeth."
Later this year, Sonrisas will partner with the county's Coastside Clinic at Shoreline Station when it provides dental education to patients at its newly . The clinic expects to debut its dental services in February or March.
In his new role, Alvarado says that he would like to focus on expanding the clinic's donor base, as well as correcting what he says is a general misperception that Sonrisas is a private clinic.
"I'm also looking forward to reconnecting with people I've worked with here in the past, along with the new challenges in this position," he said.
One of those challenges is to raise $50,000 for a matching grant the clinic recently received from an anonymous donor.
As with his former position at the city, Alvarado says he feels it is important for services to be based in the community for there to be an impact on the local population.
"I've talked to many people who are worried because they haven't gone to the dentist in years or have no money to pay for care," he said.
"That's one of the nice things about Sonrisas — we have people from the community who are hygenists and it makes it a lot easier for people to come in when they know the people who will be working on their teeth," Alvarado said.
Sonrisas Community Dental Center is located at 210 San Mateo Rd., Suite 104 in Half Moon Bay. For more information about Sonrisas, visit their website here.