June 19, 2020

Physician Barbara Stark Baxter can joke now about her resemblance to Sesame Street’s Big Bird. But at the time, donning head-to-toe yellow personal protective equipment for the first time to help a possible COVID-19 patient was no laughing matter.

Baxter, founder and medical director of the Agape Clinic, and her staff weren’t prepared on March 12 when the patient from Hunt County, Texas, arrived at the East Dallas nonprofit. They wasted no time shutting down the clinic and disinfecting the facilities while making arrangements to test the patient the following day. Thanks to planning by Air Force veteran Gary Foster, director of clinical operations, they had the bright-yellow personal protective equipment on hand, and Baxter brought in her own supplies to collect a specimen for testing.

Fortunately, the patient was not infected with the novel coronavirus. However, the situation prompted Baxter and Foster to seek the advice of clinic volunteer Ellen Kitchell, an internal medicine physician specializing in infectious diseases and geographic medicine at UT Southwestern Medical School. Together, they worked out a comprehensive plan to help ensure the safety of Agape Clinic staff and patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For almost 37 years, the Agape Clinic has provided low-cost or no-cost medical, dental and other health services, and depends on donations and volunteers to keep going.

One of those essential volunteers is SMU alumna Mary Ann Scott ’65. When Scott first heard about the nonprofit in 2018, she wanted to help. The Dallas consultant in project management, strategic planning and international communications called Baxter to find out how she could be involved.

It turned out that her involvement could run deep. Baxter, who is a Mustang by marriage to the late David Baxter ’72 and the mother of SMU alumna Sallie Baxter ’17, joined Scott in creating The Agape Always Foundation in 2019. Their goal is to expand services and fortify the financial future of this vital community resource.

The foundation was just getting off the ground when the spread of COVID-19 became a global crisis. Now the clinic is on the front lines. On weekdays, the clinic treats patients with acute and chronic medical conditions and refers anyone with severe COVID-19 symptoms to the appropriate area medical facilities. Mild and post-COVID-19 patients are treated through virtual visits.

“Our aim with The Agape Always Foundation is to ensure the clinic’s health and to continue the services that are critical to the well-being of the patients it serves as well as the entire community,” Scott says.

Scott witnessed the significance of serving those in need while growing up in Brownsville, Tennessee, a small town outside of Memphis. Her father was a country doctor whose patients often paid him in chickens, eggs and spring water. “Everyone in town respected my father for his selfless attitude and desire to treat those who were sick even though they were never able to pay,” she says.

She attended SMU on a full-tuition scholarship, earning bachelor’s and master’s of music degrees in piano performance and music education from Meadows School of the Arts.

“Music drives my thinking and approach to my business endeavors,” she says. “The skills that I acquired in music make it possible for me to be a creative thinker, a great listener, a careful strategist and strategic planner, to come up with problem-solving solutions, to communicate effectively with people of all backgrounds and languages, to bring harmony into the workplace and be a good team player.”

Scott says she is looking toward the future, when the nation emerges from the pandemic and “when we all must find a meaningful purpose – a way to contribute to society, to live a more meaningful life, to be of service.”  That is why The Agape Always Foundation means so much to her, she says. “It is a great place to take the expertise I have acquired in my lifetime and leverage for the good of those in need. It is my chance to spread the good word about lifesaving opportunities of service.”

In addition to financial support, Baxter says the clinic can always use donations of much-needed items such as hand sanitizer, surgical gowns, surgical masks, N95 masks, gloves, eye protection, cleaning supplies and medical-grade disinfectants. They also are collecting nonperishable food items for distribution to patients.

To learn more about The Agape Always Foundation, email Scott at mscott@agapealwaysfoundation.com.