As founder and president of Healthcare for the Homeless -- Houston (HHH), Dr. David Buck is a busy man. So busy, in fact, he was taken aback when his office got a voice message from U.S. Representative Gene Green's wife Helen saying that she would like Dr. Buck to attend the Centennial First Lady's Luncheon in Washington, D.C. and "meet the First Lady."
"I was very skeptical," laughs Buck, whose organization sees 10,000 patients a year and has an annual budget of $2.5 million. "I thought some colleague must be playing a joke on me."
Even when he eventually spoke with Mrs. Green, he still couldn't quite believe what was happening.
"She said they could get me an airline ticket," Buck recalls, "and I thought not just anybody can do that. But I was still just waiting for that Candid Camera moment when someone jumps out and says the joke is on you."
What was even more mysterious to Buck was the fact that country singer Lee Ann Womack -- whom Green had selected as her guest at the function, also asking her to name the charity to be honored with this year's donation -- had tapped Buck and Healthcare for the Homeless -- Houston to receive the charitable funds attached to the annual event.
"I really was baffled," Buck confesses. "I didn't know Lee Ann Womack and couldn't understand why or how she had decided that we were the charity to receive this year's donation."
As chairwoman of the event, Mrs. Green says she chose Womack, who is married to former Houstonian and Nashville record producer Frank Liddell, because she had danced to Womack's signature hit "I Hope You Dance" at her son's wedding "and because Lee Ann was gracious enough to donate her time and talent to the event." Womack broke off from recording her next album to attend -- and sing at -- the luncheon.
"As chairperson of the luncheon, I would normally have decided which charity to give the money to, but because Lee Ann donated her time I wanted her to get to name our charity this year," Green explained. "And we were just thrilled when she came up with such a worthy cause to help."
Mrs. Green went on to explain that her husband is very sensitive to health-care issues "because his district is underserved."
"He always tells people that he hates that his constituents can see the Medical Center but most don't have the money or the insurance to have access to it," says Green. Congressman Green said in a written statement regarding health-care issues and HHH:
Texas has the unfortunate distinction of having one of the highest rates of uninsured individuals in the nation with nearly 25 percent of our population not having health insurance coverage. I've been a long-time supporter of community health centers since they play a vital role in our state and across the nation by helping fill the medical void for low income and uninsured individuals. This donation will help Healthcare for the Homeless-Houston continue their work serving the Houston homeless population's health care needs.
So with assistance from Mrs. Green, on May 9 a still somewhat disbelieving Buck found himself in a receiving line where he shook hands with First Lady Michelle Obama and spoke briefly with her.
"It was very quick, but she thanked me for the work we are doing," says Buck. "It was very touching."
Later Buck found himself in a banquet room at the Hilton seated directly across from Womack.
"It was noisy and it was a huge table, so we couldn't hear each other," Buck recalls. "Finally I just got up and walked around to where she was and asked her how all this had happened."
It was then that Buck learned that HHH had been suggested as a worthy Houston charity by Lise Liddell, a lifelong Houstonian who happens to also be Womack's sister-in-law.
"And I was touched, and I said something like 'You mean that woman in my yoga class made this happen?'" Buck laughs. "I was just completely surprised by the chain of events that led to me being there."
HHH will receive approximately $10,000 when Rep. Green presents the check at the next meeting of the HHH board June 21.
"Congressman Green has been a big supporter of federally qualified health-care facilities and we are one," Buck explains. "We get about a third of our funding from the federal government."
According to Mrs. Green, a former Aldine ISD math teacher, once she found out the chain of events and connections that led to Dr. Buck and HHH being honored, she was amazed.
"I just thought we've got some really cool karma going on here," Green laughs. "Just to know this kind of thing is going on in Houston and that we can contribute some money to such a worthy cause is very satisfying and uplifting."
Buck describes HHH, which is associated with Baylor College of Medicine (where he is also a professor), as "pretty much hand-to-mouth," noting that raising the funds to handle 10,000 patients per year is a full-time job. HHH not only provides health and dental care, it also works with patients to direct them to other care options that are available within the overall health-care system.
Those wishing to donate to Healthcare for the Homeless -- Houston can contact Carlie Ann Brown, Chief Development Officer, at 713-276-3027, or online at www.homeless-healthcare.org.