FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Tom Hardy spent many years avoiding talking to people, and he rarely smiled because he was ashamed of his bad teeth.
But thanks to the Fort Worth Hope Center, where he works as chaplain, and to the generosity of a Colleyville dentist, Dr. Laurence Oliver, Hardy isn't embarrassed about his appearance anymore.
And Hardy, who got a complete dental makeover last year with new implants to replace his rotting and missing teeth, has plenty of reasons for smiling: He recently got married at age 79.
"I have a totally new outlook on life. I planned to get my teeth fixed when I could afford it, but it was far in the future," he said.
So it's not surprising that Hardy will be on hand to help the Hope Center celebrate a milestone of its own: the grand opening of a dental clinic to help those who can't afford it get needed dental work so that they can find jobs and rebuild their lives.
At a banquet Tuesday those who worked hard to open the clinic, called The Smile Center, will be recognized. The clinic, with two dentist chairs, a lab and X-ray equipment, is already open, and Oliver spends every Thursday seeing people with major dental needs.
Oliver, an implant specialist, donates one day a week to the clinic, and he said other dentists are already expressing interest in coming on board. He hopes the clinic will be open five days a week as more dentists volunteer.
"Opening the clinic is a miracle from God," Oliver said, describing how people came forward and donated everything from tile work to major plumbing repairs.
Jamie Phillips, a dental supply representative who is a close friend of Oliver's, brought in office furniture, cabinets and other equipment.
When the clinic needed money to buy surgical equipment and other supplies, TCU students in an honors program called the Nature of Giving that seeks out nonprofit organizations to support gave the center a $30,000 grant.
"We were scratching our heads to come up with something, and God produced a miracle for us," Oliver said.
Orlando and Jo Ann Reyes, who founded the Fort Worth Hope Center as an outreach ministry of the Church Without Walls, said the idea for the clinic grew out of a need to help people find work. The center offers job training for those who want to work as forklift operators, for example, and the state recently approved a program to help people learn to work in the food service industry and to be commercial truck drivers, Jo Ann Reyes said.
Jo Anne Reyes said poor people often don't get the dental care they need, and they face obstacles in finding work because of rotting teeth or bad breath from gum disease. Many dental clinics for the poor pull teeth but don't do anything else, she said.
"This will be a huge impact in this community that will help people get jobs," Jo Ann Reyes said. "It falls into our mission of 'Fighting Hunger ... Feeding Hope.'"
Oliver is no stranger to the Hope Center.
In 2009, he read about Jeremy Burnett, a homeless man with depression. Gifted at teaching math, Burnett was an instructor at the Hope Center and at a nearby electrical company whose trainees were having problems passing the GED exam.
Inspired by Burnett's perseverance, Oliver donated $25,000 of dental work, replacing most of Burnett's teeth.
Burnett was transformed, and he got financial aid to attend Texas Wesleyan University to major in Spanish and math.
He earned a 4.0 during his first semester.
Now Burnett is finishing his studies as an exchange student in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and will return to the United States this week.
Hardy is looking forward to seeing Burnett, as the two became friends. Hardy often took Burnett to his dental appointments and saw Oliver's work.
Now, Hardy is going forward with his life, thanks to a new smile.
"Having new teeth has changed my outlook. I was reluctant to talk to people and say what I wanted to say. Now, I have a new lease on life," Hardy said.
Information from: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, http://www.star-telegram.com