I did not fully understand until I was in college the many complex ways a stable home is a crucial component of healthy childhood development. In my case, I have had an uphill battle for stability my entire life. My dad was drafted and sent to Vietnam, returning home a classic cripple from that experience, alcoholic, bipolar, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We moved around a lot when I was a child due to our economic struggle. My parents frequently switched from one low-paying job to the next. My father filed for bankruptcy when I was two, and it seemed we were continuously trapped in a downward spiral. He and my mom had struggled to establish and then lost three homes when I entered school. However, we managed to survive and cope as best we could until my father had a massive stroke that left him mostly paralyzed. I was 12, and my older brother and sister had already left home.
The stroke took away my father’s ability to speak. This left my mother entirely in charge of everything. He was suddenly confined to a bed, and life was over as I had known it. Overnight, I went from child to full-time caregiver. He was placed in a rehabilitation center three hours from our home within time.
Most of the time, I was left with family members so my mother could spend time with my father. After determining that he would not recover, we brought him home, and I helped my mother look after him for two years; rather than going out with my friends doing things that normal teenagers do; instead, I was at home feeding and changing my dad. When I was fifteen, my mom finally accepted that my father required 24-hour attention that we could not provide. He died in a Veteran’s Home in 2009. For this statement of my disadvantaged status, I think it is important to note that my father was forced against his will to participate in the Vietnam War, which ultimately left his entire family wounded. This is particularly clear concerning the development of my older siblings.
I worked very hard in high school to make my mother proud. I hoped this would somehow ease some of the sadness etched on her face daily. I continued to suffer financially throughout my college years. On several occasions, I thought about getting a paying job to purchase something other than the barest of essentials, but I knew in my heart that I would have to choose between that and my volunteer work. And my heart decided to live with almost nothing and continue volunteering.
I began tutoring elementary-age children with reading and learning disabilities in January 2007. Later that following August, I spent an entire school year working with at-risk youth, helping them pass their classes and the Georgia High School Graduation Test. Before that, I began volunteering with Meals on Wheels and stayed with it for three years. I am not yet fluent in Spanish, but I am very devoted to ongoing improvement and eventually becoming fully fluent since I am convinced that outreach to Hispanics, especially the children of recent immigrants, will be of fundamental importance to my dentistry career. My most treasured experiences have been the five-month period I spent with the Athens Library System (2009-10), mentoring underprivileged Hispanic children aged 5 to 15. However, my crowning achievement as a volunteer has been my work with XXXX.org. I am currently the Executive Director and a member of the Executive Board of this organization dedicated to the well-being of children in the State of Georgia affected by HIV/AIDS. I oversee all aspects of our organization, including finances and the recruitment of new members.
I feel strongly that my humble origins and the loss of my father early on have provided me with valuable opportunities for growth and insight, especially into the plight of socio-economically disadvantaged individuals and groups. This is one reason why I have a burning passion for the goal of working with underserved populations as a dentist; bringing gifts of life and happiness to other needy children will be, for me, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.