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A smile to be proud of: Glendale community effort helps transform one man's dental health and future

December 26, 2013|By Mark Kellam, mark.kellam@latimes.com
  • Joseph Cordova, in front, with Cathy Keen, and Dr. Ronald Vandermey, co-Pastor of Bethany Bible Presbyterian Church in Montrose inside the church on Monday, December 23, 2013. About 10 years ago, when Cordova's life was at a low point, Vandermey took him to the USC school of dentistry to have substantial work done on Cordova's teeth. There, he met Keen who has been his mentor and mom ever since, filling a need Cordova had after his parents died, and grandparents neglected.
Joseph Cordova, in front, with Cathy Keen, and Dr. Ronald… (Tim Berger / Staff…)

Before he was a teenager, Joseph Cordova’s mother had died, he was living with his alcoholic grandmother and suffering from serious dental problems that tore down his confidence — and could have eventually led to life-threatening health problems.

His front two teeth were chipped terribly. He had missing teeth and the ones that were in his mouth were crooked and riddled with cavities. And he had problems with his gums.

However, with the help of Glendale Healthy Kids, a local pastor and a dentist at USC, Cordova now has a smile he is proud of and he’s venturing into a real estate career.

“Tooth by tooth, they really helped me piece my life back together,” Cordova said. “They gave me confidence. They gave me something to smile about.”

But the road to a happier life was difficult. His mother, who had four children with Cordova being the oldest, died when she was only 23 years old and Cordova was 8. His father was out of the picture.

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Cordova, along with his younger brother and sister, went to live with his grandmother. The youngest sibling, a girl, went to live with her biological father.

But the grandmother became a severe alcoholic after her daughter’s death.

“She threw up blood, right in front of me,” he recalled. “She drank herself to death.”

Living in that environment took a mental toll on him. “Every time I heard a siren, I would get sick to my stomach,” Cordova said. “I knew it was for my grandmother. She would be drunk somewhere.”

When his grandmother died his freshman year, Cordova bounced around, often living for periods of time with relatives and friends.

“I pretty much just ran the streets,” he said.

During those years, he got into trouble for getting into fights, possession of alcohol and some petty vandalism. He was also often cited for missing school.

Trying to get away from a path that was leading to gangs, Cordova moved to Florida when he was 16 to live with a great-uncle. A short time later, however, Cordova returned and, because he had outstanding citations and missed court dates, a judge sent him to a boot camp for at-risk youth for six months.

It was there that his life hit a pivotal point. On Christmas day at the boot camp, Cordova was feeling particularly low because others were getting visits from family and friends, but he was alone. Cordova opened a Bible.

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