Philanthropy Profile: Dr. Marv Nelson's dental mission to the Ukraine

The Open Door Foundation is a federally registered organization based in Edmonds, Washington, that I started about 10 years ago with a few friends and family.

1611denel P01

The Open Door Foundation is a federally registered organization based in Edmonds, Washington, that I started about 10 years ago with a few friends and family. The mission has been to improve people's lives in our local community and wherever the door of opportunity opens for us to help out. Locally in the Greater Puget Sound area, we have provided items like clothing and personal hygiene products, but also scholarships to educate and sustain people struggling to become self-sufficient.

Our overseas missions activity began about 2005. Through a unique connection, we were asked to help out with the needs of young people in the former Soviet Union. We raised funds and made several mission trips to the Ural Mountains area of Russia to initiate and support a program of aid to homeless street children and orphans, many of whom are dealing with horrible substance abuse issues.

Five years later, an individual with whom my wife had worked in Russia invited me to help out with needed dental treatment for individuals, primarily children, who had difficulty accessing dental care in Ukraine. Since 2010, I have been travelling annually to Ukraine to provide dental care in the children's homes, schools, and orphanages who contact my missionary friend who lives there. He in turn makes arrangements for our visits in advance of my arrival. The idea was to assemble components of a mobile dental clinic that could be set up within the individual locations, disassembled, and then easily moved to the next site. Each year we refine the process by adding better elements with portable capabilities, delivery systems, instruments, sterilization, imaging, and power management. I just returned from the 2016 mission trip and I'm back in my full-time practice, thinking about ways to improve our program for next year, and always inspired and enriched by the experience.

How do we pay for it all?

We occasionally will have a formal fundraising dinner for a specific need, such as a piece of equipment. We send requests out on social media, and market to our friends and social network. Fortunately we do have some regular donors who specifically designate funds to the Ukraine overseas mission part of our work. It is tremendously gratifying when I get a call that someone wants to donate. I also have no problem with a certain amount of shameless begging! I do not hesitate to contact dental supply and equipment representatives concerning donations, and they have been very helpful with products when they are able and have the heart for giving. If funding is short, prior to leaving for the Ukraine dental mission, my wife and I kick in the shortfall if needed.

Essential mobile tech

After the first year of not having any kind of radiography capability, I was determined to have the ability to take any needed x-rays for all my subsequent mission trips. After a bit of research, I selected the Nomad handheld x-ray device. It has outstanding battery life, is easy to use, and was durable enough to withstand our constant packing and unpacking and rattling down rough roads to the villages. It has been such an advantage to have a lightweight, portable x-ray device to precisely take intraoral images for those that I serve.

1611denel P02

1611denel P04

1611denel P05

1611denel P06

Editor's note: For information on the Nomad Humanitarian Loaner Program, please e-mail

Marv Nelson, DDS, resides in the Pacific Northwest and maintains a full time general practice in Edmonds, Washington. He received a DDS from Creighton University. Dr. Nelson is a founding member of the Open Door Foundation, based in Edmonds, Washington. The foundation has a registered international branch which supports the dental mission in Ukraine.

More in Dental Outreach