Dental Hygiene Students, Student Organizations Set for Global, National Spring Break Service Trips

Ferris State UniversityLearning, giving and good works are byproducts of several scheduled mission trips for student groups and registered student organizations throughout Ferris State University’s spring break, which begins Saturday, March 9.

Alumni will join second-year Dental Hygiene students from Ferris’ College of Health Professions and other volunteers for a trip, beginning Thursday, March 7. Students and other dental professionals are participating in an annual trip to Guyana, a South American country on the Atlantic Ocean. Assistant Professor of Dental Hygiene Catherine Archer said that this effort is affiliated with Chicago-based Partners in Evangelism International and Hastings Baptist Church, in Barry County.

“The team will set up a clinic in a church, then offer a week’s worth of care, free of charge to patients,” Archer said. “A pastor with PIEI picks out where they will be working, in a different location in Guyana each year. In my experience, teams have been well cared for during each visit, while we provided a variety of dental services.”

Archer is not participating in the 2019 trip but explained that students who agree to this learning opportunity are expected to raise $2,000 to cover travel expenses and other costs.

“It takes a year to get first-year Dental Hygiene students apprised of the need in Guyana, and what will be required of them to participate in the program,” Archer said. “We share the stories of students who have gone in previous years, which is an important part of pointing out the value and scope of this experience.”

Emily Hodges is a registered dental hygienist who graduated from Ferris’ Dental Hygiene Associate of Applied Science, in 2017, and Bachelor of Science programs, 2018, for Dental Hygiene. Her father, Scott, is a Grand Rapids-based dentist and has led and chronicled this service program for more than a decade. Hodges’ report indicates nearly 5,800 patients were seen from 2008 to 2018, with dental cleanings and other services provided there being valued at more than $600,000. Emily Hodges believes this will be her sixth trip to Guyana, and her first visit was as a high school student.

“It is a thrill to see our contacts in Guyana, Andy and Kathleen Girwarnauth, we have become close friends,” Hodges said. “Each trip there is different, and riding a bus along a two-track for five hours into the jungle, along a tributary of the Amazon will certainly be a unique experience. To bring out a patient’s smile, or to end a toothache they have had for years, is very satisfying.”

Margaret Gingrich, DDS has been a colleague of Hodges and Steven Hall, an adjunct Dental Hygiene faculty member, for the Guyana trips and is now focused on supporting student fundraising.

“The sheer value of Ferris’ students offering this assistance accentuates their educational experience,” Gingrich said. “They are providing important care to patients who sorely need it. It is definitely life-changing for those who take part, and while I am currently obligated by my professional and family circumstances, I look forward to returning to Guyana someday.”

Second-year Dental Hygiene student Whittnie Smillie of Millersburg, Michigan will graduate in May with an AAS in Dental Hygiene and her Bachelor of Science in Allied Health. She is making her first trip to Guyana with this team.

“This is too good a learning opportunity to pass up,” Smillie said. “Being a dental hygienist is, at its heart, about offering service. I know Guyana is a country with many difficulties, but I am going in with an open mind, ready to help as much as I can, knowing that our hosts will do everything possible to support us and keep us safe.”

Aubrey Archer, of Naperville, Illinois, a 2015 alumna of Ferris’ Health Care Systems Administration program, has made two trips to Guyana with this team. Her mother, Catherine, a Dental Hygiene assistant professor is an organizer of this program.

“I got involved in my senior year, I admit that I didn’t know all that I was getting into,” Archer said. “We did a great deal of work in 14-hour days, but there was a great emotional reward. It is very grounding to see what these people have in their life circumstances, and to be able to serve them as a fellow human being.”

Other alternative spring break service programs, involving Ferris registered student organizations include:

  • Wesley House, affiliated with the United Methodist Campus Ministry, will send a contingent of 27 volunteers to Panama City Beach, Florida which was devastated by Hurricane Michael in October 2018. “This is the largest group we have ever assembled, and the earliest response to a disaster scene, in our experience,” Director Devon Herrell said. “We expect that debris removal and assisting with drywall will keep us busy.”
  • The Ferris chapter of His House Christian Fellowship will support a 45-person contingent building single-family homes in Juarez, Mexico for Casas Por Christo, an El Paso, Texas-based nonprofit. Twenty-five Ferris students, freshmen to seniors, are participating. “We raised the funds to cover costs of three of the homes being built,” His House Administrative Assistant Kate Hogoboom said. “We know the stories of the families being supported, and we added a home to our plan and gathered the support needed to build it. We can make an amazing difference in Juarez in a week’s time.”
  • The Newman Center Campus Ministry of St. Paul’s Catholic Church will send 10 students along with Fr. Jegar Fickel to the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels in Chicago, Illinois. “The Franciscans of the Eucharist serve one of the poorest areas of the Midwest, and we join their staff during spring break,” Fickel said. “We will leave Saturday, March 9 and return on Sunday, March 17.”

Ferris’ Spring 2019 semester classes resume on Monday, March 18.


PHOTO CAPTION: Assistant Professor of Dental Hygiene Catherine Archer (left) and her daughter, 2015 Health Care Systems Administration alumna Aubrey Archer (right) provide care to a native of Guyana, in the South American continent, as part of a spring break service trip. The students affiliate with Partners in Evangelism International, with more than a decade of support, offered in that country. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Mammina)