Reflections on Today's America
March, 2009 - Issue #53
Two days after President Obama's inaugural address, I found myself on the phone with an orthodontist. Instead of chatting, though, about my concerns over 2-year-old William's thumb sucking (is he destined for a life in braces?), we talked "America."

Dr. Alan Barbakow, a much-loved SCV orthodontist, had been pondering the president's message of unity. "How can we become one?," he asked me, in a way that implied both the rhetorical and pragmatic weight of the thought.

I didn't have a good answer. Like him, I was nauseated by the economic news of the day. Unlike him, I felt powerless.

You see, Dr. Barbakow is used to getting things done. He's a favorite leader in Santa Clarita's nonprofit circle, a successful businessman and a beloved father and grandfather. He's also a student of history.

"Our nation has faced tough times before, and we banded together and moved forward, little by little. Once we worked up the momentum, we were able to make a lasting change. We did it during the Depression, the women's movement... We can do it again," he said.

But he's not waiting for a national stimulus plan or a formal invitation to action. He's doing what he has the power to do.

Like other SCV businesses, Barbakow's Orthodontics Office in Newhall employs a good number of staff. Keeping patients coming in is what keeps the doors open - and maintains jobs.

So he figured out a win-win concept with both staff and potential clients in mind. "Dentistry in general, and orthodontics in particular - these are not services that people, especially kids, should wait to receive. Moms and dads worried about having a job next month are going to delay their child's important treatment because they're afraid they won't be able to keep up with the payments. What happens is that the problem gets worse, and the solution becomes more involved. These folks need treatment now."

The plan: to maintain a continuation of care for all new patients deferring fees should there be a personal reversal of economic status. Translation: If you should lose your job or your house, or otherwise hit a bump in the road, the bills stop coming until you are back on your feet; your kid's vital follow-ups don't get cancelled because Mom is behind on an invoice.

"It's a gamble, but it's one I'm willing to take," said the orthodontist. "I'm betting that you're going to keep your job. I'm taking a chance on a neighbor. I'm saying that I trust people, that they'll be 'good for it' when situations improve. I hope other businesses do it, too."

That afternoon, I hung up the phone with a better idea of what it means to "become one." The process involves creatively determining how we as individuals, businesses and communities can use the resources we have available to us to help give someone else a helping hand. Because we will succeed or fail together as one, it's a necessity. It's also the right thing to do.

Santa Clarita, the bastion of nonprofit organizations, is uniquely able to serve as a model of service. We already have the tools - and the mindset - in place. We just need to act. So, what are you going to do?

For details on Dr. Barbakow's services, call 259-5959. For local volunteer opportunities and community connections, visit HandsOn Santa Clarita's website at
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