May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, and this year we would like to recognize our founder and board president, Dr. Theresa Cheng. Dr. Cheng is a true champion for veterans and an advocate for veterans' oral health. Her passion for service and support has been a source of inspiration to many.
Dr. Cheng was born in Taiwan to Chinese parents. Her parents escaped from Beijing in 1949 with only the clothes on their backs and did not get to see their remaining families for 40 years. They were recent college graduates at that time and quickly became refugees. Her mom credits her faith and the assistance of the Catholic churches and schools in supporting their refugee journey until they reached Taiwan about a year later. Her parents were both teachers and were able to get employment. After having 6 children, they were recruited to teach in Malaysia. Theresa was just 4 years old when they moved. Life was not easy growing up in Malaysia, but she had great fun, roaming the forests and hills around their home and playing with bugs, chickens, cats and dogs. However, school and schoolwork were always the priority, and there was an unspoken expectation for her and her siblings to do well in school and they did. Their family did not have much, and she was keenly aware to be appreciative of what they have and to help others who are less fortunate and in need.
After high school, she won the opportunity to be an exchange student to the U.S. for a year-long program with the American Field Service program (AFS). She was the first Malaysian in Lake Mills, WI. She had great fun sharing information and answering questions about Asians and Malaysia to the community and her high School. One of her classmates shared years later that it opened his eyes to the world and he went on to join the Peace Corps. Theresa said that this was a significant year of mindfulness, learning how to handle the challenges of social, emotional, and psychological aspects.
Theresa moved to Seattle in 1983 for her Periodontics Residency. She graduated as the first female Asian periodontist from University of Washington Periodontics Department in 1985. She was invited to join two private practices, one in Seattle and the other in Bellevue. In 1990, she opened her own practice in Issaquah, WA, limited to the practice of Periodontics and Implants, serving the community for 30 years.
She gave back in various capacities in the community, from volunteering at the local food bank, at church, Habitat for Humanity, Washington Women In Need, and more. Professionally, she volunteered on various committees and boards, including the Washington State Dental Association and the Washington Dental Quality Assurance Committee.
In 2008, Dr. Cheng started a grassroots effort to help veterans and their spouses receive free dental care. She worked tirelessly and grew this to be an award winning national charitable organization, Everyone for Veterans, founded in 2017. Her dedication to helping veterans has not gone unnoticed. She has been honored with numerous awards, including the 2017 Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs Superior Service Award and the 2021 American Dental Association Humanitarian of the Year Award.
Thank you, Dr. Cheng, for all you do!
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