A Helping Smile
Florida - Alpha Omega
6 February by Paul Gundian
By Paul Gundian, Florida ’14
Every week, I get to make a difference in a child’s life. It may be gradual, but my hope is that eventually this child defies his label as an “at-risk youth.” Matthew, a third grader from an underprivileged home, lives with a single mother in a dangerous area of town. He is considered a high-risk child due to low academic achievement and a poor home situation. Each week, I visit him at his elementary school where we play sports, read, and talk. Since mentoring began last semester, Matthew and I have gotten very close. He often calls me his big brother and I can truly see him as my little brother. I plan to mentor him for as long as I am living in Gainesville, and I hope that I can help guide him to a life away from poverty and crime.
Apart from mentoring, I have also volunteered at Shands Hospital through the University of Florida College of Dentistry for three years. I work with the dental students as an assistant for dental procedures performed on patients that come through the doors of the dental school. Most of the patients we treat in these clinics cannot afford going to a private practice as most dentists do not take Medicaid. Instead, they come to the dental school where it is accepted.
Another passion of mine is working with the Operation Smile organization on campus where I am currently an officer. We fundraise and create care packages for children that have been living with a cleft lip or cleft palate. Due to this congenital condition, these children are often malnourished and looked upon as outcasts. Many are robbed of a proper childhood, and it is not uncommon for many of those affected in third-world countries to go on most of their life without the surgery that fixes their condition.
All of these organizations have been very important to me because they have allowed me to do things for the betterment of others. These programs have helped me realize how blessed I have been my entire life. As an aspiring dentist, these experiences motivate me to directly help those in need that can’t afford proper dental care, both here in the United States and overseas through an organization like Operation Smile.
Since joining these organizations, I have reached out to my fellow ATO brothers gauging their interest. As a result, many have joined each of these extracurricular programs. I hope that my brothers will be able to get as much out of these organizations as I have.