Alpha Omega Foundation US: Striving to Improve Access to Care Worldwide
Laura B. Kolton, MBA
The Alpha Omega Foundation US is the US philanthropic arm of the oldest international dental organization, the Alpha Omega International Dental Society, which has student and alumni chapters in more than 20 countries. From its beginning, the foundation has endeavored to raise funds supporting oral health programs that provide care to children and adults who lack accessibility to oral health services while training dental professionals to care for the most vulnerable populations. Today, in light of recent violence and human rights abuses that have taken place in Israel, the work of the foundation is more important than ever.
The History of the Foundation
The Alpha Omega Fraternity was founded in 1909 by students from dental schools in Baltimore, Maryland, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The students, who had been barred from forming social groups because they were Jewish, created Alpha Omega with a clear mission in mind: to stop discrimination within places of higher education and beyond. Over the years, the ideals by which Alpha Omega was created stimulated the development of more chapters throughout the United States and the world. Today, Alpha Omega has 105 worldwide chapters.
The foundation was born when in 1953, a handful of the Alpha Omega fraternity's leaders, believing that "we are our brothers' keepers," set a goal to build a world-class dental school in Israel. Alpha Omega Fraternity worked with the Hebrew University to develop and incorporate a school of dentistry into the existing framework of the university in Jerusalem. The new dental school was to develop and train dentists to replace aging and retiring immigrant practitioners and provide modern services for the exploding population in the small country due to an influx of refugees. In 1964, the dream became reality as Alpha Omega became the founder of the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine.
The fraternity wanted to accomplish even more. Alpha Omega decided that a separate organization would help achieve the philanthropic goals and, in 1969, it chartered the Alpha Omega Foundation. To extend the mission of the US Foundation globally, similar foundations were established in other countries, adhering to their respective local tax laws. This included the establishment of the Alpha Omega Foundation in Canada in 1970, the London Trust in 1972, and the Israeli Foundation in 1983. The combined international charitable contributions of Alpha Omega's members, chapters, foundations, and trusts over the years are estimated at over US $60 million.
The foundation's commitment to the advancement of dental medicine continued with its instrumental role in the establishment of the Maurice and Gabriela Goldschleger School of Dental Medicine at Tel Aviv University in 1970. However, in 2012, the dental school teetered on the brink of closure and had ceased admitting new students. The foundation, with the American Friends of Tel Aviv University, along with other dental professionals in Israel, including Dean Adam Stabholz of the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine, embarked on a campaign imploring the Israeli government for financial assistance to alleviate the substantial financial losses the university had incurred in its efforts to educate future dentists. After the government alleviated the financial losses, the foundation and American Friends of Tel Aviv University launched a $3 million fundraising campaign to renovate the school's facilities, establish specialized care for individuals with unique needs, and cultivate new revenue streams from both higher tuitions paid by students training to be specialists in the fields of endodontics, prosthodontics, and periodontics and the care they would provide.
This collaborative effort not only secured vital funding, but the partnership expanded the scope of specialized education at the school and rescued the institution from potential closure. The Advanced Care Clinic and a Special Care Clinic were aptly named after two Alpha Omegans, Dr. Ralph Rothstein and Dr. Ben A. Williamowsky. The intervention not only prevented the school's closure but also revitalized its trajectory, etching a lasting legacy of unwavering support from the two organizations.
Today, the foundation continues to support the dental schools in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv through its relationships with the American Friends of Hebrew University-Hadassah and American Friends of Tel Aviv University as well as similar needs around the world.
The vision of the foundation extends beyond supporting and training dental professionals. The foundation seeks to collaborate with other organizations through three key initiatives:
Health: Provide dental and health services for those who would otherwise be unable to procure treatment because of economic, physical, or political situation.
Education and research: Assist the advancement of studies and programs in various professional and technical fields at colleges and universities throughout the world; enable more students to pursue further education; and advance knowledge of disease and cure.
Care: Support various organizations and facilities that help care for the elderly and handicapped with in-kind services in AO members' private practices and affiliated hospitals and institutions.
Other notable oral health initiatives that Alpha Omega Foundation has accomplished include the following:
Building funds: The foundation is often involved in fundraising for various dental school expansion programs, such as those at the University of Pennsylvania, Howard University, University of Florida, Temple University, University of Detroit, University of Southern California, and others.
Maxillofacial projects: The Yom Kippur War in 1973 resulted in a dire need for properly trained maxillofacial teams capable of restoring facial damage and disfigurement. This project brought Israeli maxillofacial teams to the United States and Canada for advanced training. In addition, Alpha Omega funded the Maxillofacial Prosthetic Rehabilitation program to train Israeli dentists at the Sloan Kettering Hospital and MD Anderson Clinic in the United States. This project focused on contributing prostheses for wounded Israeli soldiers.
Refugee and immigrant retraining: The influx of minimally and poorly trained Russian immigrant dentists into Israel created a need for a satisfactory retraining course to standardize the level of dental care. Alpha Omega, through its foundation, accepted the challenge with its "Adopt-A-Soviet Dentist" campaign, which enabled the retraining of 350 dentists from the former Soviet Union.
Mobile dentistry: The foundation facilitated the purchase of equipment needed for a mobile dental clinic that provides care to needy children of all nationalities living in underdeveloped areas.
Fellowship and exchange study grants: Through fellowships and grants extending from 1 to 3 years, some of Israel's most promising dental students and graduates are trained in American, British, and Canadian dental schools. The foundation also funded four American Dental Education Association (ADEA)/Alpha Omega/Abrams fellowships in advanced leadership training, providing the necessary skills for dental education leaders to become Deans of dental schools.
Dental equipment for hospitals: The foundation has donated dental equipment, from the simplest to the most sophisticated, to hospitals in cities around the world.
Current Goals and Initiatives
The mission and vision of the Alpha Omega Foundation have not changed, yet the programs that the foundation seeks to support are based on current oral health needs. A current program is the Alpha Omega Henry Schein Holocaust Survivors Oral Health Program. Established in 2015, this program provides pro bono oral care to the most economically vulnerable Holocaust survivors, in addition to individuals of any faith who are survivors of Nazi persecution and meet the eligibility requirements of the program.
Through another partnership, Alpha Omega Foundation US, as well as Henry Schein Cares, provided support to Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine and AKIM Israel to establish a program to train young adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities in dental auxiliary jobs. The program was so successful that it was also launched at the Goldschleger School of Dental Medicine at Tel Aviv University.
The foundation's most recent projects include a matching grant for the Alan J. Sherman Alpha Omega Dental chair for the Trudi Birger Dental Clinic in Jerusalem, in collaboration with Dental Volunteers for Israel (DVI). The clinic is the only facility in Jerusalem that offers free dental education and services to indigent children, youth, elderly, and Holocaust survivors, regardless of race or religion. The foundation also raised funds for Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine to build a radiology room for a new panoramic x-ray machine designed for people with intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities.
How to Support the Foundation
There are several ways that dental professionals can support the Alpha Omega Foundation US. Note that it is not necessary to be a member of the society to participate in foundation activities; all a person needs to do is be willing. Those who are willing and able may volunteer their time and skills to provide education, care, and training for the most vulnerable people in society who do not have the means of being able to see a dentist. In addition, individuals and businesses may make financial contributions to Alpha Omega Foundation, Inc., which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, charitable organization. More information is available at the foundation's website, aofus.org, as well as via email, email@example.com.
About the Author
Laura B. Kolton, MBA
Executive Director, Alpha Omega Foundation US