By Echo Garrett
From community networking events to charitable contributions of both time and money, the chiropractic profession is filled with people who serve to serve, rather than serve to earn. Being active in your community often brings some unexpected benefits. With so many causes, charities, schools and faith-based organizations needing support, chiropractors take a myriad of approaches to giving back.
Tony Breitbach, D.C., focuses his giving on battling childhood obesity. He became involved with his local YMCA’s mentoring program, Project SOAR, in Evanston, Ill., eight years ago. “It offers mentors to at-risk kids from 8 years old all the way up to age 18,” says Breitbach, owner of Wellness Revolution. “I wanted the opportunity to educate kids about health care. There are more obese kids now than there have ever been. I wanted to be a good role model.”
As Breitbach read more and more research about childhood obesity, he was alarmed to learn that children today represent the first generation that may have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. “The crummy lifestyles most children lead mean that one out of three of them will suffer from chronic diseases in their lifetimes,” he says. “I wanted to reach the younger generation. That’s the Y’s message, which matched up with everything I was trying to do.”
Breitbach has been encouraged by the response and believes he’s having a real impact. The chiropractor, who is also an Ironman competitor, launched a Healthy Kids Day for families and does frequent health education talks. Four years ago, he founded YMCA’s Youth Triathalon, which has grown into a popular event. Although new business wasn’t his goal, he’s found that the YMCA staff frequently refers members to him, and the YMCA’s CEO is now his patient.
When Louis Okun, D.C., and his wife Lori graduated from Life University in 1987 and opened Family Chiropractic in Union City, Ga., they were strangers to the community. Inspired by what he saw Hosea Williams doing with his holiday Hosea Feed the Hungry and the Homeless events, Okun held a staff meeting a few weeks before Christmas and announced that the office would sponsor a local program for folks in need. That first year, he rented an elementary school, and the local fire department helped collect toys. Food was donated, and when the day of the holiday party arrived, more than 300 families showed up. As the flow of people hit a lull, he and another staffer went door to door in one of the more challenged local communities. At one apartment, the parents opened the door, and Okun saw three young children sitting on the couch dressed up in their best outfits. The parents told him that the children insisted on getting dressed up to go to a party. “We hadn’t planned on offering rides to anyone, but I think it was a Christmas miracle that we happened to knock on that door,” he recalls.
The event, called Helping Hands Holiday Dinner (helpinghandsholidaydinner.com), recently marked its 24th year and is held annually on the Saturday before Christmas. It has grown to serve more than 10,000 families in need. Okun works with the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services and other agencies to identify families to whom invitations are issued. Two months before the event, Okun devotes much of his time organizing, finding sponsors and working on logistics. “Luckily my wife keeps the practice going,” he says.
Families are treated to dinner and every child gets at least one toy, sometimes two depending on the donations. Eight Santas are in separate areas to speak with the 5,000 youngsters who come through to receive gifts. Local artists entertain, pro wrestlers put on a show and kids play on giant slides, rides and other attractions. An army of 500 volunteers helps Okun stage the popular event, which he estimates would cost $100,000 to put on. “Initially we called it the Mission Square Family Chiropractic Feed the Needy Christmas Dinner, but after three years we formed a nonprofit and took our name off of it,” he says, acknowledging that not many people in the community know that he is behind it, and he likes to keep it that way. “I just do it to help people. I don’t promote my office at all, but I believe that everything comes full circle. When a little kid hugs your neck and says thank you, that’s all I need.”
Recent Life University graduates Kelly and Tim Milano returned to their native Michigan with the intention of caring for patients in low-income areas. Since their return to the Detroit area, the Milanos, who have five children, have partnered with La Casa, a local charity that provides shelter for abused women, children and men. During their Restored Life Health Center’s week-long grand opening, the couple has pledged to donate 50 percent of all proceeds to La Casa. They are also providing free care for La Casa’s residents. “We lost everything in the recession,” explains Milanos, “and we couldn’t have made it through eight years of school without so many people reaching out to help our family. Now it’s our turn to give back. Even the name of our practice reflects where our hearts are.”
Taylor Poehls, D.C., of the Chiropractic Company in Brookfield, Wis., believes that chiropractors should be leaders in health and wellness and that being actively involved in the community is an integral part of that. For his efforts, Poehls won the 2012 Wisconsin Chiropractic Association’s Nels Bakke Award for serving the profession and his community. He runs a series of health-related workshops for businesses and organizations that want to improve the health and wellness of their members and employees. “When I opened my practice in 2009, I didn’t want to recreate the wheel. I shadowed other chiropractors to learn how they served their communities,” says Poehls. As a result of the advice he received, he joined his local Kiwanis Club and the local Chamber of Commerce.
He conducts workshops at the local assisted living facility on topics like fall prevention, healthy management of osteoporosis and healthy aging. For businesses, he does workshops on ergonomics, raising healthy and happy kids and stress management. “There is no shortage of nonprofits looking for volunteers,” says Poehls. “You just have to open your eyes to the needs in your community.”
After practicing since 1998, Darren Pollack, D.C., shifted his approach once he met his wife, Shannon, a personal trainer who is highly focused on serving the community, in 2008. Pollack was inspired by her involvement and passion for so many causes. The duo launched DASHA Wellness in New York City with a focus on philanthropic causes. Because they are both athletes who have had family members with cancer and diabetes, they often run marathons with the American Cancer Society’s DetermiNation Team and for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Additionally, the Pollacks have donated time and resources to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, CancerCare, Help Us Adopt (Shannon’s younger brother and sister are both adopted), ArtStart, D.R.E.A.M. and the COPE Foundation, which offers comfort to families who have lost children. “All of these charities that we work with hold special meaning for us,” says Pollack.
Whenever the Pollacks run a marathon, they work a tent immediately after finishing, offering free services to fellow team members. “I do active release technique, stretching and consultations,” he explains. As the father of two young children, Pollack is passionate about bringing his holistic approach to wellness and a healthy lifestyle to kids, and DASHA has been involved with some of New York’s public schools in the pursuit of this mission.
For Andrew J. Hull, D.C., in Winter Park, Fla., who recently won the Orlando Business Journal “40 Under 40” and “Most Influential Men” awards, giving back comes naturally. “My mom did a lot of volunteering, so I grew up with the notion that it’s the right thing to do,” he says. “I know a lot of chiropractors who do so much for their communities. We come from a different place of understanding about health. I think it feels good to give time, especially if you believe in a cause.” Hull is a member of several local area chambers, and he sponsors the Winter Park High School athletic department, where he was an athlete, not only with a cash contribution to their programs, but also by providing free and discounted chiropractic care to all athletes involved in the program. “[My practice] is centered around exercise and living a healthy life, so I am passionate about supporting young athletes,” he says.
For several years, he has hosted a monthly support group for parents who have children on the autism spectrum and sensory disorders, allowing them to meet for free in his clinic and volunteering his time and expertise on nutrition and holistic approaches. “It’s an opportunity for me to sit back and learn what these parents are going through,” says Hull, who offered his office for the group of 20 when he learned a local church was going to charge $200 for its meeting space. “Nobody’s selling anything. These meetings are simply there for the parents to express what they are going through and to see if any of the other parents have any ideas.”
Hull is also passionate about the arts. He is a contributing member to the Orlando Museum of Art, the Maitland Art Center and the Morse Museum of Art. He supports local artists by featuring their work in the lobby of his clinic. This past year he donated to or volunteered his time to the following organizations:
Central Florida YMCA (a health fair to increase awareness of Chiropractic in the community), Bridges of Light Foundation Player’s Ball, Winter Park Lost Pets (sponsored a dog walk and free microchipping of pets), Nathaniel’s Hope (an autism awareness fair in Orlando), Rising Lotus Children’s Village Got Karma (bringing education to a Tibet orphanage), Winter Park High School Baccalaureate Program (on a career panel for a select group of kids), Teach-In Winter Park (teaches a high school science class and lets the students experiment with some of his tools) and Winter Park Chamber Career Panel. He listens to his patients, too, to learn more about the causes that they care about. That led him to donate funds to an opera company called Central Florida Vocal Arts, which was started by one of his patients.
Because Lisa Goodman, D.C., and Jayce Buzek, D.C., of Washington Park Chiropractic in Denver, were both Division I college athletes, they focus on doing low-cost sports physicals at middle and high schools in low-income areas. “Most doctors charge $60 to $80 to do the exams, which are not covered by insurance,” says Goodman. “Plus, getting time off for a parent, who is already struggling to make ends meet, puts a big burden on a family in poverty.” Goodman and her partner got certified to offer the physicals and then approached the principals at schools where many students receive free lunches. They charge $25 for the exam, and in many cases, the school pays the fee for athletes. The chiropractors also come to the schools to perform the exams on-site, eliminating the problem for parents of getting their children to a doctor’s office. (Note: Licensing regulations vary by state, so be sure you are in compliance before performing sports physicals.) “We volunteer to speak at schools as well,” says Goodman. “Teachers are always looking for volunteer speakers.” In addition, Goodman, who lost her father to pancreatic cancer, raises money for that cause every year. “We encourage our staff to raise funds for causes that matter to them,” she says. Typically, the office commits to three other fundraisers a year. For example, for a pet adoption effort the office collected blankets, food and supplies. It also did a bone marrow registry drive and an autism awareness event.
Many of the benefits of being involved in the community cannot be quantified. While immediate results may include raising awareness about Chiropractic and your individual practice, intangible benefits—such as pride, satisfaction, connecting with others—are worthwhile reasons to serve.