AUSTIN, Texas — Local nonprofits help our community thrive. Without them, people who are in a pinch or who've fallen on hard times struggle to make ends meet.
Manos de Cristo is a nonprofit that's been helping the Austin community for 35 years.
"I was always covering my mouth, and I was always just, you know – I felt very, very conscious of my bad teeth," Martha Hernandez said.
Hernandez is no stranger to the dentist's chair. For as long as she can remember, she's had problems with her teeth. Growing up in Chihuahua, Mexico, the town relied on well water that wasn't properly treated.
"Everybody in the town had very yellow teeth, and it would be like a buildup. So when they brought me out of here to the states, it was not normal to be like that," Hernandez said.
Aesthetically, her teeth needed work. But then they started hurting.
New to the country, the then-single mother of three had no insurance and couldn't afford going to the dentist. Luckily, she heard about Manos de Cristo, an organization that's been helping low-income people in the Austin community since 1988.
"In nonprofit years. 35 years is as an eternity, right?" executive director Julie Ballesteros said.
Initially, Manos de Cristo operated out of a rented space off of Cesar Chavez Street.
"Now we are in this 10,000-square-foot building with a dental center," Ballesteros said.
The nonprofit's current location off 51st Street and Harmon Avenue offers dental care at highly reduced rates. Ballesteros said it's an important service, considering dental health is a window to your overall health.
"If you let your mouth go, if you don't take care of cleaning your teeth, then yes, it can get into your bloodstream. The infection from your mouth can travel to your bloodstream, and it can cause problems with your stomach," Ballesteros said.
Hernandez knows about the complications firsthand. She's diabetic and has developed stomach problems. Throughout adulthood, she's had countless procedures such as root canals, implants and cavities.
Manos de Cristo's dental center keeps busy. But the nonprofit also offers people basic needs such as meals from its food pantry and donated items from its clothes closet.
"So, we have our education program, which includes our ESL classes, our citizenship classes and our computer literacy classes. I mean, we have really great success stories," Ballesteros said. "Affordability has become an issue for a lot of people. So, you know, they just need a little bit of help to get through the next pay day."
Manos de Cristo has certainly helped Hernandez get through. She's been working to fix years and years of poor dental care. Thankfully, she now has her healthy smile back – and she's filled with gratitude.
"I just want to say thank you. Thank you because it wouldn't have been possible with that – it wouldn't have be possible without this great organization," Hernandez said.
Every year, Manos de Cristo helps 30,000 people through all of its programs. It's a true testament to the power and need for nonprofits.