South Charlotte

South Charlotte nonprofit puts smiles on kids’ faces, for free

Dr. Steven Dickens stands with, from left, Martha Dario, Jay Blakeney, Dr. Gary Starr and Anna Fenno, program coordinator Smile for a Lifetime. Starr and Dickens founded a local chapter of the Smile for a Lifetime Foundation to give orthodontic scholarships to patients in need, including Dario and Blakeney.
Dr. Steven Dickens stands with, from left, Martha Dario, Jay Blakeney, Dr. Gary Starr and Anna Fenno, program coordinator Smile for a Lifetime. Starr and Dickens founded a local chapter of the Smile for a Lifetime Foundation to give orthodontic scholarships to patients in need, including Dario and Blakeney. COURTESY OF ELIZABETH HILLIARD

A south Charlotte orthodontic practice is helping put healthy smiles on the faces of some young patients who might not otherwise be able to afford it.

Martha Dario, 18, and Jay Blakeney, 12, are recipients of full orthodontic scholarships through the South Charlotte, Matthews and Union County Chapter of the nonprofit Smile for a Lifetime Foundation.

Dr. Gary Starr and Dr. Steven Dickens of Starr & Dickens Orthodontics started the chapter in November 2011.

“Smile for a Lifetime is a nonprofit organization that helps provide orthodontic care to those who need it and can’t afford it,” wrote Dickens in an email. “We decided to become affiliated because we feel it’s so important to help those in need, and we liked the structure they provide to help guide our chapter.”

S4L, as the nonprofit is known, was launched in 2008. Its mission is to “create self-confidence, inspire hope and change the lives of children in our communities in a dramatic way,” according to the organization’s website at www.S4L.org.

S4L sponsors free orthodontic care annually to hundreds of individuals age 11-18 years. S4L has 165 participating chapter members in 44 U.S. states and Canada.

Each local chapter has a board of directors. The South Charlotte, Matthews and Union County Chapter has 11 board members with diverse backgrounds, among them a dentist, a school counselor, a writer in TV/radio, a coach and a tax accountant.

These community leaders sort through applications that include letters of reference, personal statements, a photo, verification of financial need and indication of special circumstances. After considering the applications, the board selects the scholarship recipients.

The goal at Starr & Dickens is to add 12 children annually to the program.

Since November 2011, Starr & Dickens has provided orthodontic care for 41 individuals through S4L. “That’s 41 families that we have helped through this wonderful program and through the incredible generosity of our doctors,” wrote S4L program coordinator Anna Fenno in an email.

Jay is the 38th scholarship recipient. He just got his braces on in May 2015 and expects to wear them for three years.

Jay is a rising seventh-grader who lives in Monroe. During basketball season, one of his teammate’s parents told Jay’s father about the S4L program, so Jay applied.

He said he was excited to learn that he was going to get braces on that he wanted them right away.

“The best thing about my braces is that I love smiling more and my family is happy for me, and my friends are happy also for me,” wrote Jay in an email. “Smile for a Lifetime has changed my life and definitely my smile.”

Dario is the 27th scholarship recipient and got her braces on in March 2014. She expects to have them on for two to three years.

Dario lives in Colonial Village Town in Monroe. Her friend’s mother told her about the program. Dario wasn’t sure she would be accepted, but decided to try.

“I wanted to be able to smile like the rest of the people that have such a beautiful smile,” wrote Dario in an email. “I always stayed away from the crowd because of fear of how they might look at me because I didn’t have such (a) perfect smile.”

When Starr & Dickens Orthodontics put on Dario’s braces, she instantly knew that it would be life-changing.

“Now, thanks to Starr & Dickens Orthodontics and staff, even though I still have my braces on, my teeth have honestly accomplished so much in a year that now I am able to freely smile,” Dario said, adding that she no longer feels insecure.

“It’s amazing to see our Smile for a Lifetime patients start to brighten up as soon as the braces go on, because previously they had no hope of helping what they felt so badly about,” Dickens wrote. “As treatment progresses, you can see the transformation of these young individuals who start to take more pride in their appearance and themselves. It’s an incredible thing to watch someone grow and develop closer to their potential and know you had some part in that.”

“The best thing about Smile for a Lifetime is it allows us to impact the lives of some wonderful children who otherwise would not be able to afford orthodontic care,” Starr wrote. “The process of creating a beautiful smile in a child with low self-esteem is truly transformative.”

Marissa Brooks is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marissa? Email her at mbrookspt@earthlink.net.

Learn more:

Reach Starr & Dickens Orthodontics at 704-845-0600 or S4L@starrdickensortho.com

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