HEALS, or Health Establishments at Local Schools, has been around for decades. It serves underprivileged kids within Huntsville City and Madison County school districts.
"It started in 1998 as a collaborative agreement between Huntsville City Schools and the local medical community because they were seeing the need for kids within the school systems who didn't have a place to go for medical, dental or optometry care," Executive Director Heather Mason said.
In 1999, HEALS opened its first clinic at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. However, it looked very different than it looks now.
"We were in a small trailer," Mason said. "When the school expanded — I think, actually, in 2016 — they built us in the school."
It offers easy access for children who need care. Right now, HEALS has a total of five clinics across Madison County.
Dental hygienist Patricia Phillips has been with HEALS for 11 years. She said she has experienced firsthand the impact proper health care can have on a student's overall well-being and confidence.
"The best part of my job is to help the community who really needs the service," Phillips said.
Dental Assistant Chasity Ward was a single mother. She said she understands what it is like for some parents who need help.
"There's a lot of parents who cannot take work or do not have transportation to bring their kids here for the services they need," Ward said.
Mason said starting next year, they are hoping to provide transportation for patients who are not at a school with a built-in clinic. However, she said, donations and help from the community is crucial.
"About 40% comes from what we bill from Medicaid," Mason said. "The other 60% comes from grants, fundraising and other individual donations we get."
Those donations will help Phillips and Ward provide care to more kids in our community.
"They really become a part of us," Ward said.
The 2021 Stars Dancing for HEALS fundraising event is Thursday, Nov. 4. Right now, you can donate to your favorite "star." Each dollar donated represents one vote for the dancer of your choice.
For more information on how to donate, click here.