Gwyn Davis' dentistry practice is in the University City area, but her volunteer service spans the globe.
She loved her first mission trip, to Jamaica in 2000, so much that she decided "this is what I really need to be doing," she said. She went back to Jamaica three more times. She has also been to Guyana, South America three times and to South Africa.
In the interest of full disclosure, Davis is my friend and dentist. She was also a reluctant interviewee - she does not usually talk about what she does for others.
As the global health ministry mission coordinator for our church, Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, she invited me to help on a South Africa medical mission trip in 2007. The experience was incredible. It also allowed me to see her in action as the coordinator, dentist and all of the other roles she played.
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The road she took to reach her current role was not an easy one. Although her father was a successful family physician in High Point, Davis remembers how time-consuming his career was.
In college, she was a biology major, but her interest in dentistry came about after a dental visit. Having her wisdom teeth removed was the experience that changed her life. It made her want to become a dentist. "I was so inspired by the techniques and the chair-side manner of the dentist," she said.
But it wasn't until after college, a marriage, a divorce and the birth of young daughter that she went through dental school at Tufts University in Boston.
She could not work full time and complete dental school and during that challenging time, she received food stamps.
That assistance provided another life lesson.
"I want people to know, you may need assistance but you don't have to remain on it. It's a hand to help you," she said.
After many more hurdles, Davis went into private practice in 1984. Her University City practice, Dasling Dentistry, has served a wide variety of clients since 1994. She shares the practice with two partners, and they have a staff of 13.
Recently, the staff organized a day of service, and the office was closed to regular patients for an entire business day. It was devoted to serving women from two area battered women's shelters. All staff members wore T-shirts with the logo, "Something to Smile About."
Volunteer dental assistants from Cabarrus County helped with the fillings, extractions and teeth-cleaning.
Davis said she feels that, throughout her life, people have helped her along the way. 'I just feel I should do something in return,' " she said. In Charlotte, she has done a lot of free screenings at churches, and she volunteers at the men's uptown shelter.
When Davis coordinates global mission trips for her church, it requires countless hours recruiting other dentists, physicians, optometrists, lab technicians, health personnel and other volunteers.
Medical professionals have to plan four to six months in advance. It also means taking 10 days off from her dental practice to travel. "Getting supplies is always a huge challenge," she said, "but the Lions Club always responds generously with glasses. "
Davis said a mission statement she found sums up her feelings well. It says, "God calls us to be in mission. Being in mission means sharing our gifts and talents as well as our experiences of God's good news with others. It means taking necessary risks to widen our understanding about other people, not only in our own communities and country, but the whole world."
She uses this mission statement to recruit volunteers. "After the first volunteer experience, people often call to volunteer again," she said.
Now a mom of two grown children and two grandchildren, Davis is looking toward a new volunteer project - working with homeless women. "There is so much need locally and globally, if we can make a difference we should, she said.
During the mission trip to South Africa, Davis took lab technicians to make dentures. She said, "when you see people smile, you just get so much out of it, there are no words that can express it. You just see in their eyes how grateful they are."
When you talk to Davis, you can see how rewarding the experience was in her eyes too.