When the Capen Fund for Kids steps in to help a family, it’s not just fixing a tooth. It’s addressing a myriad of interconnected issues—the child’s mental health, the family’s immigration status, medical debt and lack of education. Braces may not sound life-threatening until you look at the larger picture. In a medical system that doesn’t leave much room for nuance, and may leave families bankrupt, the Capen Fund for Kids is a unique, lifesaving opportunity.
The Capen Fund for Kids was established in 1996 by Cleveland Clinic Martin Health in Stuart, Fla. It has helped hundreds of uninsured children and families pay for medical and dental care. Some of their most impactful stories start with seemingly minor medical issues.
“We’ve funded crutches and ear tubes and medical equipment. We’ve helped people make their homes and vehicles wheelchair accessible,” explained Jessica McLain, chair of philanthropy, Florida region at Cleveland Clinic Martin Health.
Take, for example, the young girl in child protective services who needed funds to fix her braces. The braces, it was discovered, had been in the girl’s mouth for four years without any maintenance—no cleaning or tightening or oversight from an orthodontist. The resulting gum disease and odor were causing the girl significant distress. It wasn’t her fault—the system had failed her—but she was paying the price and it was taking a major toll on her mental health. She had begun expressing suicidal intent. It’s difficult to find funding for orthodontic work, so she was referred to the Capen Fund for Kids. The Capen Fund covered her expenses and the girl was able to move forward with her life.
In another instance, a young boy was referred to the Capen Fund by his school nurse, who suspected he had a broken arm that was not professionally treated. The boy required anesthesia so that his arm could be properly treated. Without proper treatment, there could have been significant lasting effects. By covering his medical expenses, the Capen Fund did more than just give this boy his health back. His parents had tried to treat him at home instead of taking him to the hospital because they were undocumented. Thanks to the Capen Fund’s help, they did not have to choose between their son’s health and deportation.
“Every time a case comes across my desk, it’s just as unbelievable and heart-wrenching as the last, if not more,” added McLain.
Carrie and John Morgridge have been supporters of Cleveland Clinic Martin Health for years. As part-time residents of Stuart, where the clinic is located, they had heard of its impact and good reputation. In 2022, the Morgridges were inspired to give to the Capen Fund for Kids.
“We’re thrilled to give to an organization right in our own backyard that makes such a big difference in the lives of children and families,” said Carrie Morgridge at the time. “This gift will help ensure that more people receive the medical care they need without financial distress.”
MFF’s gift allowed the Capen Fund for Kids to expand and provide financial assistance to residents in neighboring St. Lucie County. According to the Clinic’s community health needs assessment, St. Lucie County’s population is growing rapidly and has a large percentage of young residents. The data clearly showed a need for pediatric services and funding for medical care.
The Capen Fund’s history supported the data. The Capen Fund rarely declines requests from families in need. Prior to the gift from MFF, the primary reason the Capen Fund had to deny a request was because the recipient lived in St. Lucie County. Now, that barrier has been eliminated.
In addition to expanding the Capen Fund, Cleveland Clinic Martin Health is enhancing pediatric and maternal health services at its St. Lucie County locations. Pediatric anesthesia, maternal fetal monitoring and capabilities to handle high-risk pregnancies are among the new services that will be offered to residents.
Recently, the Foundation staff at the Clinic was visited by what McLain described as “this handsome, strapping young man.” The young man was an 18-year-old, first-generation American who had received a medical grant from the Capen Fund for Kids two years before to fix a severe double cleft palate. The condition made it difficult for him to chew, swallow and speak. As a result, he was bullied in school, became depressed and had attempted suicide before he was referred by child protective services to the Capen Fund.
McLain explained that at the time, Martin Health—then not part of Cleveland Clinic—didn’t have the capability to do palate surgery for this young man. But they didn’t give up. They found a surgeon in their community of providers who agreed to take the young man’s case and fix his cleft palate.
Now, two years later, he walked into their office happy and confident. He asked to thank the employee who signed off on his application to the Capen Fund and was able to look her in the eyes and shake her hand—the person who changed his life.