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Statewide Nonprofits Find Needs, Distances Great In Nevada

Las Vegas dental charity Future Smiles expanded delivery of its school-based program into Northern Nevada in late 2016.
Future Smiles

Las Vegas dental charity Future Smiles expanded delivery of its school-based program into Northern Nevada in late 2016.

Nonprofits working at both ends of Nevada find the needs deep and the distances great.

Despite being 450 miles apart, Reno and Las Vegas share many qualities: Both are among the nation’s fastest-growing communities, and they have diverse populations with many born somewhere else.

They also suffer from growing pains that have prompted nonprofits to expand their service areas from one part of the state to the other.

Project REAL, a Las Vegas-based organization that teaches children about the law, plans to open an office and hire staff in Reno.

It’s kicking off its expansion on April 26 with Lyrics & Lawyers, a karaoke competition for attorneys being judged by Nevada Supreme Court Justice Lidia Stiglich and Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve. The event is the group’s first fundraiser in the north.

Tom Kovach is the executive director of Project REAL. He told KNPR's State of Nevada that the organization decided to head north for two simple reasons.

“Both the acknowledgment that the need is universal throughout the state as well as requests from teachers and principals up north who had heard about what we were doing here and wanted to know how we could help them and their students,” he said.

Kovach said as they have expanded he has seen less of a divide between the needs of the northern part of the state and the southern part of the state, but he has seen big differences between the rural parts of Nevada and the urban centers.

Project REAL is following a path blazed by other nonprofits, including Las Vegas dental charity Future Smiles, which expanded into Northern Nevada in late 2016.

Future Smiles was created by Terri Chandler, who is a dental hygienist. She started the nonprofit when she realized just how many kids in Southern Nevada schools needed oral health care.

Chandler said they expanded into Northern Nevada and some of the rural counties with grant funding and a lot of work from people who saw the need.

She said two important pieces keep the nonprofit working: technology that can be easily accessed just about anywhere and a team culture. 

Going the other way was Immunize Nevada. The group, which promotes vaccinations, is based in Reno and began statewide operations in 2007 before opening an office in Las Vegas in 2015.

Heidi Parker is the executive director of Immunize Nevada. She said it started when several people realized that Nevada had the lowest immunization rate in the country.

She said those rates have steadily changed "because we've all come together" to make sure parents are getting access to the healthcare they need to make sure their children are vaccinated.

Tom Kovach, executive director, Project REAL;  Terri Chandler, founder, Future Smiles; Heidi Parker, executive director, Immunize Nevada 

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With deep experience in journalism, politics, and the nonprofit sector, news producer Doug Puppel has built strong connections statewide that benefit the Nevada Public Radio audience.