Welcome Home Dental Program Lauded in North County Times

VISTA - When Faith Barrows was doing drugs and drinking to excess, the last thing she thought about was dental care. Those years of neglect and substance abuse have taken their toll, and now the 35-year-old Vista woman needs about $8,000 worth of dental work.

"Dental care was not one of my priorities back then," said Barrows, who has cavities that need filling and broken teeth that need repairing. "I haven't had any dental care since I was a kid."
Through a rehabilitation program called Welcome Home Ministry and the kindness and generosity of Ginger Hansen, a Vista dentist, Barrows is getting the care she needs. Hansen and her staff dedicate two Fridays a month to seeing women who could never pay for such treatment. All of the care is free.

"We take five patients at a time," explained Hansen, and it generally takes two to three months to complete the dental work. "What has to be done runs the gamut from a toothache to rampant decay and the need for dentures. It's due to a combination of neglect and drugs, but I don't ask their background."

Jaime Quejada, an oral surgeon in the same building, and Centre City Laboratories in Escondido, also donate their services.

Hansen says she offers her services for nothing as a way "to give back to the community." She insists it takes a team, however.

"I couldn't do it without my staff. They volunteer to come in on their day off."

It is the Welcome Home Ministry that sends the women to Hansen's office.

The organization is a "faith-based support system for women in transition from incarceration to productive citizenship through Christian love, prayer and fellowship," explained Carmen Warner-Robbins of Encinitas, a nurse-turned-minister who founded the program 10 years ago on a shoestring budget - mostly her own money. It began with counseling prisoners in the Vista Detention Facility shortly after her ordination. In talking to the prisoners, she learned of their needs, and thus Welcome Home was born.

Since that December day in 1996, the organization has touched the lives of 5,000 women, and has almost 1,000 actively involved, she said.

Welcome Home has been successful where other programs have not, Warner-Robbins said.

"Our recidivism is less than 3 percent of women in our system over the past three years. Our re-entry model - women helping women - is now being recognized as a model that works, and people are following our lead across the country. We are replicating it in Northern California, Oregon, Dallas, Tampa, Costa Rica, and soon in Minneapolis."

Warner-Robbins was recently invited to the White House to share the organization's secret of success.

Janie Hudson of Vista is a case worker for Welcome Home who says she understands need for health care professionals like Hansen and Quejada.

"I have a never-ending spreadsheet of women who need the gift of unselfish generosity," she said. "The women come to us broken and with little faith that their lives can be changed. They've been beat up and their self-esteem is zero. God heals them from the inside, and the dental work is the exterior restoration. It is very costly, and we are very grateful."

Hudson came to Welcome Home after what she described as 25 years of substance abuse, seven years of living on the street and four incarcerations. She reluctantly began attending prayer sessions nine years ago, then volunteered to be a peer counselor.

She said she visited other women who were in jail and let them know that "Welcome Home is a place where a woman who has been deserted and has no confidence can become part of a group of women who can help her. We know what it's like to go through what she's going through."

Hudson has graduated from her volunteer status to a paid position with the ministry.

"If anyone ever told me that I'd have this job, I would've laughed," she said.

"Now I even own my own home."