AVA, Mo. – Dozens of runners hit the streets of downtown Ava, Missouri Saturday morning to help raise money to make sure kids in the area can access quality dental and medical care.

2022 marked the eighth year Missouri Ozarks Community Health has held its Health Drive 3.1 and 5K.

The money raised by the event benefitted the Missouri Ozarks Children’s Health Fund. The fund provides dental services to kids who need them, via the Missouri Ozarks Community Health dental bus.

“There’s a very large need for dental care in the counties that we serve – Ozark, Texas, Wright and Douglas – with the mobile dental truck,” said Dr. Sybil Fortner, who is the Dental Director for Missouri Ozarks Community Health. “There’s some kids that just don’t have insurance or any way to get signed up for things so again it gives us the ability to see anyone that wants to have care – to take care of them regardless of what’s going on.”

The dental bus is a full dental office on wheels, Dr. Fortner said. The busiest time for the bus is during the school year, when it can allow kids to receive dental care right on school grounds, making sure they miss as little class time as possible.

“The financial component, not having to worry about that, it makes my job so much easier,” said Fortner. “All I have to do is get to show up and take care of the kids like I want to do.”

There are plans to expand the program to include preventative care, behavioral health screening and more comprehensive primary care. These services are provided to families in the area regardless of whether they have insurance or can pay.

Runners made their way along a certified route and the top finishers earned awards for their efforts. The event brought out 53 participants, one of whom was Carol Turner. “I’m 77 this year.  So it was challenging for me, but I try to work on it all year,” said Turner.   

“It’s especially challenging when it’s humid and hot outside. There’s a lot of rolling hills and some of the hills just go on and on,” said Shari Cook, who participated in the race. Cook is also a Nurse Practitioner at Missouri Ozarks Community Health.

The Children’s Health Fund started three years ago. Before that, the annual race’s proceeds went to a community partner. For the last three years, the money made from sponsorships and race fees has gone directly to the fund.