As president and CEO of corporate incubator and accelerator Cellerant Consulting Group, my articles are usually about growing businesses. But this article is about growing awareness for a group of people who provide a phenomenal service for our country every day—members of the military. These men and women and their families often quietly struggle to make ends meet or get the health care that they need. They don’t ask for acknowledgement, but there is a growing event that serves as a way to give them the thanks they so rightly deserve.
One dentist and one day
Many people aren’t aware that America’s largest military appreciation event, Freedom Day USA, was created and spearheaded 11 years ago by a dentist. Dr. Robert Martino of Wilson Martino Dental in West Virginia has turned this once-local day of recognition for active military service members, their immediate family, and veterans into a yearly national celebration.
“Veterans may come to Freedom Day to get their teeth cleaned, and in the whole scheme of life, a lot of things may not change, but this day can change their perception of how people feel about them," says Dr. Martino. "That day says, ‘We feel that you guys are heroes, and you should be treated that way.’ This is our way of doing that.”
The event started with participation of Wilson Martino’s whole team—associates, assistants, and office staff. “I could not do any of this without my team. It's great to be a visionary, but they’re doing the dental work. If your team doesn’t follow you, it means nothing. They are the ones who are giving up their time and effort,” says Dr. Martino.
Wendy Boyce, director of marketing for Wilson Martino Dental, explains the more expansive reason for the day: “A lot of people do not understand that just because someone has served in the military, they may not be eligible for full benefits, and some local VAs have very long waits. That's the beauty of Freedom Day. We can get someone to a healthier state and address their pressing dental issues right away.”
Inspiration for Freedom Day
The idea for Freedom Day occurred to Dr. Martino when he heard a song that had music overlaid by military families’ testimonials. Boyce says, “That song gave him a big awareness of what happens when someone is deployed, what the family goes through, and the point of view of the service member. He realized that we just don't do enough as a community, or as a business, to say thank you.” At that time, Dr. Martino decided that his dental organization would set aside a day and say thank you by offering dental free services—“a day of free for a lifetime of freedom.” Boyce continues, “The idea started ‘growing roots’ and just continued to expand, and as he attended seminars and told his colleagues about it, they wanted to join in too. And then it just started to explode.”
How one day expanded
They went from hosting one day at the office to having participants in every state. Dr. Martino recalls, “It was huge; we were seeing almost a million dollars in services being given on that day.” Of course with an effort that big, participants faced some scheduling challenges, so more recently, Freedom Day was expanded to make it easy for everyone to participate, not just dental businesses. The one-day restriction has been eliminated; now, businesses can choose whatever day of the week works for them. If they can do half a day or even book one appointment for a military person, veteran, or family member, there are no barriers to the thank you. “We want to get the word out about how easy it is ... that any business can be a Freedom Day team. That's the goal. Whatever you can do supports our mission,” notes Boyce.
How you can become involved
Businesses can participate in Freedom Day in many different ways: they can partner with a dental team, give away door prizes or goods, or offer services or at their own brick and mortar establishment. “The businesses have embraced it here,” says Boyce. “We have offers from our local McDonald's, whose franchise owner has about 18 restaurants in our area, so he gives a free meal. Chick-fil-A and Honey Baked Ham give a free meal; we have free ice cream cones, free hot dogs, so these honored guests can eat all day if they want to for free. We have people giving haircuts, and a vision specialist and chiropractor provide screenings.” The thank-you offers are developed from the businesses’ already-existing expertise, so team members don't have to learn a new skill or be outside of their comfort zone.
If participants need some financial support, corporate partners can help. “Companies may provide equipment or certain supplies to our teams who are participating. There were labs last year or partners in the implant industry who provided some parts and pieces to the doctors so that they weren't out of pocket for the things they needed to help restore our veterans’ smiles,” says Dr. Martino.
There are so many unique ways that we can involve people in Freedom Day. Boyce says, “There is always a way to say thank-you. Our Facebook pages are filled with stories and testimonials that come in constantly from across the US. We also have a website, Freedom Day USA. Anyone who would like to explore those options can register on our website, and I take it from there. I will send them a media kit. If they're first-time participants, we have coaching calls, and I will hold their hand the whole way. I am absolutely honored to help the people that are helping our military.”
Dr. Martino and Wendy Boyce both agree that through giving back, a spark is lit. And for Freedom Day participants, the fire has not only been ignited, but it is spreading quickly. There’s always more warmth to be spread for our veterans and their families, so check out the opportunities for Freedom Day USA and say thank-you to our military in any way you choose.
For more information, visit the Freedom Day website.