Passion For Philanthropy: Integrating Work, Personal life, And Advocacy - LA Lives

Driven, entrepreneurial, and humanitarian are a few adjectives that describe Carla Caramat. 

Yet underneath these veneers is a soft, nurturing side only a few friends and family have the privilege to enjoy while balancing her career and passions. Concurrently, Caramat runs three companies on both the East and West Coasts. She is the managing partner of The Blende Dental Group in San Francisco, helmed by Dr. David Blende, one of the top dental providers in the Bay Area, where she started at 19. She is also co-founder of House Call Dentists and ceo/co-founder of Dentists on Demand which finds her equally dividing her time between San Francisco and New York City.

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Opening a New York City office and residence was crucial for Caramat, which she remarked was part of market research for two burgeoning start-up companies she was brainstorming and discovering a new city she has always been fascinated with. As a long-term San Franciscan, she found it amusing in NYC; one can have just about anything delivered to one’s home or work long before iPhone delivery apps. “Bagels and coffee can be delivered even if the coffee shop is just downstairs!” bemused her. She thought NYC was the perfect city to incubate the concepts for these start-ups: House Call Dentists focuses on bringing special needs and geriatric patients complete dental services into their homes.

At the same time, Dentist on Demand targets small to medium companies and millennials. “Dental pop-up,” a phrase that she coined, is usually set up at a company’s conference room where complete dental services are offered onsite. This employee perk is ideal for companies that aren’t the size of Google, Apple, or Facebook, which generally provide dental services, among many others, as standard employee benefits.

Meditation and Stoicism

Exploring the many things NYC offers, an introduction in 2017 to transcendental meditation (TM) and stoicism led her to practice the discipline. “Unlike other meditation practices, a big part of my attraction to meditation is it teaches you to turn on and off your brain from the noise around you. By saying your unique mantra repeatedly, you reach a meditative state of transcending. TM is for focus and discipline, so when you are in a stressful situation, you are without the feeling of being overwhelmed.

While stoicism overlaps with the day-to-day in terms of how you live your life, with the four virtues of stoicism: courage, temperance, wisdom, and justice. In my daily practice, I call it a prayer asking for the courage and wisdom to be loving, kind, and forgiving to others. Having gratitude is the most grounding, which brings me contentment,” she shares.

Caramat’s embrace of meditation comes with the clarity of the blessings of success. Not one to rest on her laurels, she firmly believes that charity begins at home. She endeavored to give back and share her blessings beyond her family unit. “All of us humans have an obligation to give back to our community,” she declares. With this, Caramat saw firsthand the lack of dental services within the special needs community in the US, a country of unlimited resources, unlike a Third World country.

As a Filipino first and American second, she thought, if this could happen in America, “what more in a country like the Philippines?” Her growing passion for philanthropy began with the conception of the CS STAR Foundation in 2014, which she co- founded with Emmylou Santos, a longtime friend. Emmylou, who  holds a master’s degree in Psychology in Applied Behavior Analysis, shares with Caramat the vision to serve the marginalized members of society.

Entirely self-funded, their mission is to advocate for the underserved special needs community in the Philippines. November 2019 marked the first of many planned dental outreaches. “The dental pop-ups were in partnership with Virlanie Foundation. We served the communities of Tondo and Quezon City, where they have an established program for families and children.”

The program was formally launched to introduce the advocacy at Manila House to a circle of close-knit friends, family, and supporters. There are comprehensive plans for continuity and sustainability of the program, and then COVID hit in early 2020. The following years brought about introspection and challenges to the program and questions on how to adapt to the new normal brought on by the pandemic.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, we raised money to help the communities we served via Virlanie Foundation’s feeding programs. We obviously had to suspend all our in-person programs but will resume in 2023. We will expand our services to other organizations and communities to focus and promote oral health.”

Some R & R

With Caramat’’s busy schedule balancing work, advocacy, and personal life, she is also an avid runner, swimmer, and cyclist, a sort of non-competing triathlete. The favorite travel activity she enjoys is biking while sightseeing in the French, Italian Riviera, and other European destinations. “Cycling is one of the best ways to explore a new country,” she adds. Living in New York City during her busy season, she allows herself quick getaways that don’t require a plane ride and still be able to bike, swim or run.

She did her research during her first months living in NYC with the same laser focus she applied in her work; she discovered Shelter Island in 2016. On a recent stay in Sunset Beach, Caramat spent the first moments of her check-in saying hello to the numerous staff she has become friends with through the years before getting to her room. “I consider it a gem of a getaway from NYC; here I am treated like family,” she adds. “I love the diversity and inclusivity.”

Family Ties

A sense of family is important to Caramat, whose childhood and formative years echo a common Filipino story. She was left in the care of her grandmother and aunt in Manila at the age of one while her parents lived in San Francisco. “From an early age, I was raised by a household of strong women. My aunt, the breadwinner, was able to provide for and raise an entire family without a male counterpart. To me, it was normal and taught me it’s possible that one person can provide for a family. And having a female role model was normal, and I can do that too. It shaped me today and my thinking around being strong and able to deal with anything.”

“The level of independence I have now since moving to San Francisco was that I hustled. I worked at Ma Mon Luk Restaurant, where I opened and closed and wore many hats,” Caramat remembers. Not shy to do menial jobs when she was starting, she declares, “My grit and motivation, my ethics, while working and studying college from 19 to today, stems from the fact that I have always supported myself. I am the first to graduate college in my family.”

Caramat believes that a business or philanthropy’s success stems from its people. “It takes an army, and it takes a village” to be able to implement a shared vision and goals. She is always looking for start-up ideas that align with her expertise. With her advocacy, she believes in taking small steps, returning to the same communities the program originally served to measure those results.

Looking into the future, she hopes to build a solid backbone for CS STAR Foundation to serve larger communities and start fundraising. Caramat believes that success is the culmination of small triumphs. “What impact can I have on others, using my skill sets?” is a question she often asks herself. And the answer may be in paying it forward one dental pop-up at a time.

Photos by Arsen Vasquez

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