For many who are struggling financially, heath care — and dental care, in particular — can be the first expenses to get cut. But health care professionals say letting dental care slip can lead to health complications outside of the mouth, and can result in diabetes and heart disease.

With that in mind, Road to Emmaus Ministry in Syracuse is preparing to open a clinic that will provide dental and medical care to those in need who are unable to afford it.

“This 13205 ZIP Code ranks number one in child poverty in the nation,” President and Executive Director Sheila Austin said.

For Austin and volunteers at Road to Emmaus Ministry, geography and demographics play a significant role in the broad scope of their work.

“We provide a monthly grocery bag. We provide children’s activities twice a month. We provide haircuts, showers,” she said.

The ministry is located on Syracuse’s south side. Their center provides everything from meals to legal aid to those who need it. Austin said there was one area of care where she saw room for growth.

“Being a nurse, my mind tends to go to their medical health,” she said.

Originally located on South Salina Street, a few years ago they moved to a larger building just around the corner at 127 E. Glen Ave. But it’s what they’re doing with their old building that will fill the void.

“Our guests are already coming to the outreach center six days a week, so it’s a very easy quick walk for them to be able to come here for services,” she said of the clinic, which is a stones' throw from the new ministry building.

They are able to offer the free care because the staff for the clinic is made up of volunteer doctors, nurses and dentists from around the area and much of the equipment is donated.

This removes obstacles that for many, stand in the way of access to essential health care.

“It’s a game-changer for them,” she said. “Fifty-seven thousand meals are going out to our community because they don’t have the money for food. They’re not gonna have that expendable money to put towards health care.“

She said the clinic will provide more than just direct care. Doctors will also educate patients on how to care for their teeth and their bodies.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the joy on our guests’ faces, to feel as though they are able to access something that is so basic, but so out of their reach,” she said.

As the leader of a faith-based organization and a registered nurse, she said the work is at the heart of her mission.

“I want them to know that they are valued and honored enough that we are trying to make all the services that any human being should have access to more accessible to them,“ she said.

The clinic is set to begin providing dental care at the beginning of August, and other medical care later this year.

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