Culver schools, Plymouth dentist join to ‘pay it forward’ for local student

“Everybody did what they could do to help somebody else,” says Tony Giraldi of a series of collaborations this year between students at Culver Community High School and Culver Academies, and a Plymouth dentist, which left one former CCHS student with a “new smile.”
“And that’s unique in the world,” adds Giraldi.
Director of International Advancement at Culver Academies (and a 1975 graduate of the school) Giraldi conceived of the Academies’ Building Bridges program, now in its seventh year, in part to “get kids from the Culver community and Culver Academies to work together for a common cause.”
That cause, working with Habitat for Humanity to build houses for families in Mexico over spring break, led indirectly to another kind of bridge: that provided by Plymouth dentist Dr. Louis Plumlee, whom Giraldi contacted after a group of CCHS students began meeting with Academies students and faculty to plan the Building Bridges mission trip which took place over spring break 2010.
Culver’s Lions Club, says Giraldi, provided $500 per student for the four CCHS participants, and Culver’s Kiwanis Club added $250 per student. The remaining costs of those students’ trips were paid via fund raising Giraldi conducts through the Academies’ alumni base, various foundations, and other sources.
In fact, four more CCHS students will head to Mexico with the program this March, in a 10-day work effort which will leave several Mexican families with house keys in their hands for the first time in their lives.
During the meetings leading up to this year’s trip, Giraldi but noticed one CCHS student with whom he was impressed, was in great need of corrective work to his teeth.
“I knew we had to do something,” recalls Giraldi. “Louis Plumlee popped into my head immediately. We talked to (the student)... we didn’t only approach it as a cosmetic need, but talked to him about health issues and the need to be successful in relationships, and professionally with interviews. We asked would (corrective surgery) be OK with him? He was very happy about it.”
Plumlee, whose business is celebrating 25 years as a fixture in downtown Plymouth this year, says the student’s teeth were “soft” and would require a number of appointments (around eight, as it turned out) which normally would cost many thousands of dollars. The dentist performed the procedures on his “off” hours (with the aid of his assistant Rhonda Hummel) and besides giving a discounted rate, asked that the money be given not to Plumlee himself, but to the nonprofit Campus Outreach organization, which works at four universities in Indiana and many more around the world.
“They go onto campuses and try to help college kids understand there can be a rock in their life as far as Jesus goes,” explains Plumlee. “They’re trying to get to the kids who are the future leaders of this country...to think about what is really important to them in their lives. My son (Plymouth High School and Grace College graduate Kyle) has a passion for it as does his new wife.”
Giraldi says Plumlee “didn’t hesitate at all” to agree to make the student’s surgeries happen.
“The cost would have been very high to do this if somebody would have gone in somewhere and paid full price,” Giraldi notes. He contacted two Culver Academies alumni — both of whom happened to be from Oklahoma — who readily agreed to cover the reduced cost Plumlee offered, and the checks were made out to Campus Outreach.
“It’s interesting,” Giraldi says. “You’ve got Campus Outreach, who wants to educate the future leaders of the world and teach young men and women to be responsible citizens, and then you’ve got Culver Academies, whose mission is to teach kids to be responsible citizens. The end result of this great project is (support of) an organization that does same thing. Louis is in the middle being the conduit who makes it happen.
“We hope the student will pay it forward,” he adds. “There are all these different irons in the fire: Louis Plumlee, with a practice in Plymouth, helping a kid in Culver; and folks who live in Oklahoma helping someone from Culver (who is) getting work done in Plymouth. It goes to show you the world is still a pretty good place. There are people still out there wanting to help others however they can.”
“I never really considered saying no,” recalls Plumlee. “It takes a lot for somebody to grab a hold of a situation (as Giraldi did) and say, ‘I’m going to get this done.’ I was just somebody that could do the work.”
In a series of multi-hour procedures over the summer and wrapping up in October, those of the student’s teeth which were diseased beyond repair were removed, a root canal performed, and multiple crowns and a six-unit bridge put into place.
“That restored his bite to proper functioning and also gave him a new smile at the same time,” Plumlee says, noting the overall decay the student had was at a level that is “not common.”
“He’s (the student is) extremely appreciative. You can see it when he smiles. He’s a different kid now.”
Plumlee points out the student’s oral health situation didn’t impede him from heading to Mexico “to give to others on a mission trip.”
“He’s an amazing kid,” Giraldi concurs. “He made an impression on us (during preparation for the mission trip). One thing that led me to start this process was, if he had this opportunity, it would change his life.”