A Seattle Legacy

In the heart of downtown, is Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, a men’s shelter that has been serving food, shelter and love to men struggling to care for themselves for more than 83 years. However, there’s another branch of care that operates out of the same building, which is going on its 20th year, the Mission’s Dental Clinic, otherwise known as “The Den”.

Many things have changed over the past 20 years, except for one constant, Juanita Banks, the Director of Dental Services who has been there since the beginning. She plays a large role in the amazing story of the clinic, giving dignity to those who need dental care, but also has her own story of redemption.

The year was 1995 and Ms. Banks was in a very stressful work environment at Harborview’s Emergency Dental Clinic as a Dental Assistant. She was at a crossroads in her profession, that she had worked very hard to obtain and needed a respite from the oftentimes chaos that surrounded her, which had led to a serious ulcer. She loved the work, but needed a change. She was also struggling spiritually- feeling somewhat indifferent to her faith that her parents had attempted to instill and were constantly encouraging her to pursue. By chance, she happened upon an advertisement in the employment ads in the times for a job at the Mission. She applied and was offered the job by the recruiter who told her that she believed that Ms. Banks was the one they had prayed for, which made Ms. Banks kind of panic, because she didn’t feel like she was walking in any kind of faith. The clinic needed someone to start it up, recruit dentists and get it up off the ground. The board met all her hiring requirements and prayed for healing. Her next doctor appointment showed that the ulcer had completely healed.

Over the next several years, Ms. Banks built the dental clinic slowly, but surely, allowing dentists to use their gifts to have a meaningful impact on those in greatest need. She allowed students from UW to intern with the clinic, which has helped prepare young people for careers in the dental field. There are more than 100 patient visits per month at the downtown clinic and more than 15 monthly patient visits at the recently opened clinic in Northgate (which just opened in May.)

My generation tends to be very mobile and transient, wandering and following whims. Ms Banks’ commitment to the Dental Clinic is an amazing story of what it looks like to invest in a ministry that has allowed the love of Christ to impact many in Seattle. If you ever feel the weight of serving and wonder if you are making a difference take a look down the road and imagine what God can do through you in five, 10 or even 20 years. Ms. Banks wasn’t even sure she should take the job, because she lacked a faith, but stepped out anyway. Many are thankful that she did.

-Nathan A. Ryan

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