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John Monfredo: Combining Health and Literacy Essential for Our Children

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Dorothy Dix, United States journalist and women’s activist, once said, “Make no mistake about it – responsibilities toward other human beings are the greatest blessings God can send us.”

This quote certainly exemplifies the outstanding work being done by the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile program. Ronald McDonald House Charities of Eastern New England has been the leading sponsor of UMass Memorial Medical Center's Care Mobile program, since 2000. The Care Mobile concept was the first in the nation to bring health and dental care to those families in need of service.

This week at UMass Medical School there was a ceremony for the launching of the new Care Mobile, or as I like to call it, the new “Hope on Wheels.” The twelve year old vehicle has been replaced by a new modern vehicle with the same goal to provide medical and dental services to Worcester’s medically-underserved populations including those who are uninsured, underinsured, or not connected to primary care providers. 

The Care Mobile provides these services to children and families at multiple community sites, including 16 elementary school sites in low income neighborhoods across the city.  According to CEO John O’Brien, this new mobile has been updated with new technology and will provide service for many underserviced families in Worcester.

For me, there is a great deal of history in this event and a great deal of pride. I can’t believe that 12 years have passed since the concept of the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile hit the streets of Worcester.

School Partnered with UMass Memorial 

In the year 2000 I was principal at Belmont Community School and had established a strong partnership with UMass Memorial and worked in partnership with UMass on many projects. That year I was asked by Kathy Reitch of UMass Memorial if Belmont Community School would like to become a pilot for the Care Mobile program.

I embraced the program right from the start for I knew that healthy students become good learners and I felt it certainly would help to decrease absenteeism. I also never told school administration... I figured forgiveness could come later. During those years, having a child leave the classroom was frowned upon, but a few years later, the program was supported by administration. Now we can see this program taking place at 16 elementary sites.

What I saw firsthand were families and children receiving the benefit of this Hope on Wheels program. Children suffering from a toothache walked out of the Care Mobile relieved, parents brought their child in to get immunizations and health care, and the children were able to get back to school without missing much time.

During Fiscal Year 2011, the Care Mobile had nearly 7,000 patient visits, completed 13,750 procedures and served approximately 1,900 children at 16 Worcester Public School sites through its school-based dental program. If you look at its history, about 75,000 families have been treated through the Care Mobile since 2000.

Benefits of Care Mobile

However, statistics don’t tell the human side of the story. I observed people walking out of this “Hope on Wheels” feeling better, children’s teeth being saved and the smiles on the faces of family members knowing that there was a program in their neighborhood that they could rely on for health services. In this day and age with so many cut backs by corporate sponsors, it’s wonderful to see Ronald McDonald House of Charities, with their many foundations, committed to making a difference in number of communities.

As for the next step for our new “Hope on Wheels,” I would like to see this program bring the importance of literacy to the forefront as part of its mission, talking to parents and children about the importance of literacy in their lives and handing out books to the children. Teaching parents how to read to their child and encouraging children who enter the Care Mobile to read would be a perfect fit for the Care Mobile.

We MUST HAVE a holistic approach in developing the whole child for we all know that children who are proficient readers are successful in school and in the job market. Health and academics must be in partnership if we are to assist the many children covered by the Care Mobile to succeed in life. With that Idea, and as director of Worcester: the City that Reads, I pledge 100 books to get the program started!

Together, let’s continue to make a difference in this community. 


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