Nature Coast Ministries welcomes new director, focuses on its free dental clinic | Local News

Sometimes it takes a while for an organization to find its niche.

In 2008, Nature Coast Ministries started out as a group of local pastors and volunteers wanting to help people who were hardest hit by the downturn in the economy.

They did a little bit of this, a little bit of that, gave people food and furniture, helped pay electric bills.

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And they helped a lot of people.

Over the years, they rented space for their operations where they could, whether it was in Crystal River or Homosassa, and they’d use part of their rented space for a thrift store to generate income to supplement donations from churches and individuals.

They came to be known as the organization to turn to if you had a house fire or you had been homeless and were moving into an apartment, furnishing your new place with everything you needed.

“We’ve furnished 83 houses since the beginning of our ministry,” said Cynthia Oswald, Nature Coast Ministries president.

However, although they still do that, that hasn’t been their primary focus for about seven years.

“By the grace of God this organization has grown significantly, but surprisingly, a lot of people don’t know about our (no-cost) dental clinic, and that’s our mission. That’s where all the money from our thrift store goes,” Oswald said.

“It’s the only free dental clinic in the whole county, and people still don’t know about it,” she said.

In 2014, Citrus Memorial Health Foundation gave Nature Coast Ministries $100,000 to purchase and maintain dental equipment for a free dental clinic.

The clinic first started in the former Catholic Charities building in Homosassa until they opened the current clinic in December 2015, with its shiny black and white floors and clean gray walls, at 7655 W. Gulf-to-Lake Highway Unit 8, Crystal River.

The services, free for income-qualified people and by-appointment only, are limited to extractions and fillings, with the goal of getting people healthy.

Services are provided by volunteers — dentists and dental assistants.

After six and a half years, Nature Coast Ministries board members realized they had reached a point where they needed to go to a different level.

People still didn’t know who they were or what they’re about.







McCaughey



Four months ago, they hired a new executive director, Sonja McCaughey, a former Tampa Police Department officer.

“In 2007, I bought a lake house here as a vacation spot, and met Bonnie (McMullin),” McCaughey said.

McMullin handles public relations for the organization and is one of its most ardent cheerleaders.

“I’ve always believed in this ministry,” McCaughey said. “I have a brother who has Down syndrome and is nonverbal, and he benefited from an organization like this one in Tampa where he was able to get dental care. He had an incredible infection, and it’s amazing it didn’t kill him. So, I know how important this dental clinic is to this community.”

In the four months McCaughey has been at the helm, she said she continually meets people who don’t know about the dental clinic or they think it’s for veterans only.

Many of the people they see at the clinic are veterans, Oswald said, but not exclusively.

It’s for any Citrus County resident who does not have dental insurance and is within 200% of the federal poverty guideline.

Another misconception people have is about the Nature Coast Ministries thrift store.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve heard people say they thought the thrift store was privately owned and that out of the goodness of the owner’s heart they were donating to the (dental) clinic, and that’s not true,” McCaughey said. “The thrift store had always been owned by Nature Coast Ministries, with all the profits going to the no-cost dental clinic.”

In addition to a new executive director, Nature Coast Ministries also hired Sarah Hardy as thrift store manager.

The thrift store is at 4546 S. Suncoast Blvd., Homosassa, in the plaza where Ollie’s is located.

Now that they have those positions filled, plus an office manager for the dental clinic, one of the goals is for McCaughey to be out in the community talking to people about what Nature Coast Ministries does and what they need in order to do what they do.

First and foremost, they need volunteer dentists, even if it’s only one day a month or one or two days a year, or even a one-time shift.

Currently, they have 80 people on a waiting list, waiting to see a dentist, Oswald said.

Besides volunteer dentists, donations of dental equipment that’s no longer needed, also dental supplies, would be greatly appreciated.

The Nature Coast Ministries thrift store has several needs as well:

The back area of the thrift store where they sort donations needs better lighting, also more shelving and sturdy steps to reach shelves that are high on the wall.

They also need someone to install security cameras, and they could use the services of an electrician and a plumber.

To learn more, to volunteer or make a donation, call the clinic office at 352-422-4327 or email dental@myncm.com.

Visit the website at www.myncm.com.

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