A Day With Dr. Kris Volcheck

CEO + Founder, Brighter Way Institute


I wake up early because I am not a morning person. While that sounds counterintuitive, I spend an hour by myself reading, so no one has to interact with me when I’m in a morning mood. This spares everyone around me — my husband, family and employees. I then turn into the Kris who can be presented to the world!


One day a week before I start my day, I hang out with the homeless on the Human Services Campus or on the street around the campus. This is the best way of beginning my day because it’s how I got started. I was a practicing dentist, which did not suit me. I decided to get my MBA because I thought I would do something with the MBA and DDS in a very traditional manner. 

Fortunately, I met Mary Orton, the founder and first executive director of Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS), at my graduation. That woman was formidable and changed my life. She sensed I seemed a little lost and suggested volunteering with CASS while I figured out what I was doing. At this point in my life, I was disturbed about spending all those years in school and concluding this did not fit my sensibilities. I was scared to death at first of the homeless but within a couple of months, I realized I had found my place on earth.

After volunteering for two years, I left my dental practice and CASS employed me as a case manager working with the homeless on the streets for seven years. That experience transformed me. We then opened a two-chair dental clinic in the field for the homeless, using a 40-year-old trailer.

The homeless are the group of humans I feel most comfortable with. I thank them every day for allowing me to find a little spot of ground that allowed me to flourish. As the CEO and founder of multiple clinics, I’m not on the ground as much and miss that piece.


I check with my lead directors at all the clinics to see if they need anything. If everything’s O.K., they go on their way as they’re very capable. We have a large collaboration on the Human Services Campus with a tight group working to provide all the services needed to become ex-homeless. The campus is built on the land where I worked as a CASS case manager. This is my home space and the dearest spot to me.

I am regularly on phone calls working with our nonprofit and corporate partners. We would not be able to give complex and comprehensive care without these relationships. We manage the Boys & Girls Club Dental Center and a pediatric specialty clinic with Murphy Elementary School District. Our mobile dental unit donated by UnitedHealthcare visits Boys & Girls Clubs, the one•n•ten homeless youth shelter and the Murphy Elementary School District. In addition, our partnerships with national dental companies bring volunteer dentists throughout the country to provide free full mouth restorations and beautiful new smiles to veterans and the homeless at our downtown clinic.

The pandemic has been horrific but benefited us in how we’re now working and treating patients. We were able to pick pieces of the partnerships that weren’t working and redo them. We became leaner and more efficient, removing mistakes I would have liked undone but were baked into the formula. I ceased practicing “founder’s syndrome,” where I would make unilateral and often misguided decisions concerning the organization.


While we primarily provide oral healthcare, my biggest job is exposing people to the homeless and getting them to understand who they are. I host tours introducing people to a population they can’t relate to and therefore don’t fund. There are very few homeless dental clinics across the nation because people don’t understand the issue, and there’s no insurance reimbursement like there is for medical care.

Many believe the homeless are irresponsible, and if they had made better decisions, they wouldn’t be homeless. I try to get those touring to think of them the same way they would homeless veterans who have PTSD from serving. I want them to understand that almost everyone who is homeless has PTSD. It isn’t who they are; it’s what happened to them. I’ve spent 30 years with the homeless on the street, and these people are doing the best they can, but something traumatic happened to them. My goal is to get the community to know them because otherwise, there will never be a will from the people to house the homeless. It’s a daunting task for me personally, but it’s my mission.


One of the greatest joys I have during my day is refurbishing or remodeling our clinics. I am currently working with a volunteer designer on refreshing a few spaces. I want our children, impoverished parents, homeless and veterans to walk in and experience a “wow” factor. The spaces are an indication of the care we give, and the visuals transmit respect and dignity. We provide a space where they can come in and feel really good about what is happening.


I often meet partners or donors for dinner after work. We’re expanding our services, so I’m meeting with many people and making new plans. Our biggest expansion is our mobile services with the Boys & Girls Club. Pre-pandemic, we served five clubs, and this year we will visit 27 clubs, visiting each one twice a year.

My entire family, including siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews, moved here from Pittsburgh. We all live on the same street in a historic district in downtown Phoenix. I like villages, and it’s the daily overlapping that makes a quality of life for me. I may stop at my sister’s or walk with my brother to the pub at the end of the street or hang out on the front porch. Our village of having everyone around and interacting is almost as important as my homeless village.

To learn more, go to brighterwaydental.org. 

About Julie Coleman

Julie Coleman is a contributing writer for Frontdoors Media. She is Principal of Julie Coleman Consulting, providing strategic philanthropy consulting services for individuals, families, businesses, foundations and nonprofit organizations.

From Frontdoors Magazine

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