The Gift of a Smile

Soroptimist International Whitefish looks to improve the lives of women and children, seeking applicants for dental scholarships

When the people behind Soroptimist International of Whitefish say their goal is to improve the lives of women and girls, they mean it.

“We fund almost anything: skating rinks, about 20 scholarships to high school students, scholarships for women who are the head of their household and in school, the theater clubs, the street lighting for Christmas,” Joanie Sorensen with Soroptimist Whitefish said. “You need it and it’s a good cause, we probably have it in our budget.”

The group, founded in Whitefish in 1951, is possibly best known for its presence in town with the Thrift Haus on the corner of Lupfer and First Street, where Soroptimist volunteers sell secondhand items to raise money for the programs and projects the group supports.

“If you don’t have a piece of clothing in your closet from the Thrift Haus, are you really living?” Sorensen said.

Along with the Thrift Haus, the women of Soroptimist hold other fundraisers, including bake sales, to raise more than $200,000 each year for charitable projects.

Currently, the Soroptimist club is looking for women who are the heads of their households to apply for the Smile of Hope program. Sorensen, the Smile of Hope program organizer, said the program awards up to $2,000 in dental work to women who qualify thanks to a group of 11 local dentists.

“It’s a tremendous program. It keeps people in the workplace. Dental infections make people miss weeks of work,” Sorensen said.

She also noted that women who serve as the head of the household often spend any extra money they have on their children. The program accepts 10 applications a year, and has helped 72 people so far. Not only is good oral hygiene connected to overall health, but a person’s teeth can be a deciding factor about how far they go professionally.

For example, Sorensen met a young woman working locally in retail who would hold her hand in front of her mouth to speak to customers because she was ashamed of her teeth. Sorensen encouraged her to apply to the program and pursue her interest in accounting.

“The next time I saw this gal with her beautiful teeth she was working for an accountant,” Sorensen said.

Dental costs can add up quickly, and Sorensen said the women selected for this program are working so they don’t qualify for Medicaid and other programs, but the cost is still prohibitive for them.

Soroptimist will accept applications for Smile of Hope through the end of January. Applications can be found online, at the Thrift Haus in Whitefish, Shepherd’s Hand clinic, or by calling (406) 862-3669.

Participating dentists also have applications: Dr. Robert Larson, Dr. Laura Radatz, Dr. Neal Buffington, Dr. Leslie B Anthony, Dr. Jeff Dalen, Dr. Michael Bowman, Dr. Tere Nelson, Dr. Ron Davis, Dr. Tom Thurston, and Carl Brisendine L.D.

Sorensen, a nurse, said she got involved with Soroptimist International Whitefish when she moved back to the Flathead in 1992 as an adult; she had previously applied for a scholarship from the organization while attending high school here.

She wants to continue the Soroptimist Whitefish tradition of looking out for community needs and meeting them head on, while maintaining support for the people who need it the most.

“They’ve always had a mission statement to improve the lives of women and children globally and locally,” Sorensen said.

For more information on Soroptimist International Whitefish, including the Smile of Hope program, visit or call (406) 862-3330.