Ryan Guggenheim, 18, of St. Paul, Minn., a senior at Mounds Park Academy, helps provide dental care in impoverished communities in Guatemala by serving as a youth ambassador for the Open Wide Foundation (OWF) and raising awareness and money to fund scholarships for dental students who want to volunteer there. Having grown up in a family that values community service, Ryan began his volunteering at Minnesota Children’s Hospital because of an interest in medicine. He was also interested in Spanish and Latin American culture, so when an opportunity to work with OWF presented itself, he jumped at the chance. “I felt Open Wide Foundation was important because it provides essential dental care in Guatemala by arranging dental professionals from the United States and Canada to work alongside a full team of local dentists and dental hygienists,” said Ryan.
In 2016, Ryan, who is fluent in Spanish, traveled with an OWF team to Peronia, Guatemala. As the organization’s first youth ambassador, Ryan delivered a speech at a press conference, met with the president of Guatemala and other local dignitaries to discuss medical and dental projects, and assisted dental professionals in a clinic during tooth extractions, cavity fillings and root canals. He also helped teach children about dental hygiene. After he returned home, Ryan began working to raise money to fund scholarships for dental students. He established contacts with dental schools, created an online fundraising page, and wrote articles to elicit support. By last fall, he had raised $5,000 and selected the first two scholarship recipients. Ryan said he plans to continue his work. “I have experienced how life-changing dentistry can be,” he said.