I did not come to fully understand until I was in college, the many complex ways in which a stable home is a crucial component to 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, bi-polar, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We moved around a lot when I was a child as a result of our economic struggle, my parents frequently switching from one low-paying job to the next. My father filed for bankruptcy when I was two and it seemed as if we were always trapped in a downward spiral. He and my mom had struggled to establish and then lost three homes by the time that I entered school. We managed to survive, however, and to cope as best we could; at least until my father had a massive stroke that left him mostly paralyzed. I was 12 years old, my older brother and sister had already left home.
The stroke took away my father’s ability to speak. This left my mother fully in charge of everything. He was all of a sudden confined to a bed and life as I had known it was over. Overnight, I went from child to fulltime care giver. Within time, he was placed in a rehabilitation center that was three hours from our home. Most of the time, I was left with family members so that my mother could spend time with my father. After it was determined 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 surrendered to the fact that my father required 24-hour attention that we could simply not provide. He died in a Veteran’s Home in 2009. I think it is important to note for the purpose of this statement of my disadvantaged status, that my father’s being forced against his will to participate in the Vietnam War left his family wounded as well. This is particularly clear with respect to the development of my older siblings.
I worked very hard in high school to make my mother proud. It was my hope that this would somehow relieve some of her burden and sadness, etched on her face day in and day out. I continued to suffer, however, throughout my college years, from the lack of hardly any money at all. On several occasions I thought about getting a paying job so that I could 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 by tutoring elementary age children with reading and learning disabilities in January of 2007 and later, that following August, I began a full school year of working with at-risk youth, helping them to pass their classes as well as the Georgia High School Graduation Test. Even before that, I began volunteering with Meals on Wheels and stayed with it for 3 years. I am not yet fluent in Spanish but 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 career as a dentist. Among my most treasured experiences so far has been the 5 month period that I spent with the Athens Library System (2009-10) mentoring underprivileged Hispanic children ranging in age from 5-15. My crowning achievement so far as a volunteer, however, has been my work with UGAHeros.org. I am currently the Executive Director and a member of the Executive Board of this organization dedicated to the wellbeing 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.
My dad knew that I was hoping to go to dental school. It is a great hope for my entire family. 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.