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When a fast food chain opens a new restaurant and offers free fries to the first 100 customers, the line wraps around the building and snarls traffic.
Anticipating the same enthusiasm for his offer of free orthodontic care to qualified applicants, Homer Glen orthodontist Barry Booth established a foundation in 2011: Smile for a Lifetime of Southwest Chicagoland. He took on six scholarship patients his first year, and he’s ready for more in 2012.
"This is something I’ve always wanted to do, and something I've always done on the side," Dr. Booth said of the pro bono patients his practice has always accepted. Like all dentists, he had patients who fell on hard times during the course of treatment, and he proceeded with their treatment at no cost — informal arrangements that he was always happy to make.
"But the foundation formalizes it," Dr. Booth explained. "It's a way to give back to a community that’s been good to me."
Dr. Booth's Smile for a Lifetime of Southwest Chicagoland is a chapter of the national Smile for a Lifetime Foundation. The Colorado-based charitable organization was established in 2008 to help local orthodontists like Dr. Booth establish boards of directors and grow their local affiliates. There are more than 50 chapters in 26 states.
Despite the national affiliation, the day-to-day work of the foundation remains local. Scholarship information is available from the local health departments, school counselors and nurses, local chambers of commerce and Rotary Club members.
Completed applications include photos, proof of income, and two letters of recommendation. Upon receiving these, Dr. Booth appoints each applicant to his office to evaluate their oral health and to take both digital photographs and radiographs. He will present their cases to the foundation's Board for evaluation.
"These visits allow us to see that the family is reliable and committed, that they're coming to these appointments on time," Dr. Booth said. "We record if they're even 10 minutes late."
The Foundation's Board of Directors, which evaluates each application, is a 10-member body of which Dr. Booth is not a voting member. The mix of dentists, school administrators, pastors and business leaders selects scholarship recipients and oversees the distribution of funds.
One scholarship recipient begins treatment each month. Dr. Booth provides all orthodontic services during the regular course of business; Ormco Corp. supplies all of the hardware.
In addition, dental teams from other practices have partnered with Dr. Booth to provide auxiliary dental care, including fillings, extractions and other services to improve the patient’s overall oral health.
Each scholarship is valued at $6,000. All recipients make two commitments to Dr. Booth: that they will make it to all of their appointments on time, and that they will complete 10 hours of community service. Dr. Booth says this places value on the scholarship in the eyes of the recipient — many of whom are teenagers.
"If the child is going to benefit from it, they should appreciate it," Dr. Booth said. The foundation has relationships with school and church-based organizations, as well as the Special Olympics, which allow patients access to service opportunities within their comfort zones.
While scholarship recipients all live near Dr. Booth’s Homer Glen office, they represent a wide spectrum of orthodontic patients. One, a high school sophomore, came to the program with letters of recommendation from the two local politicians for whom she was volunteering. She is the youngest of five siblings, and her mother is a single parent.
Another scholarship recipient was a 23-year-old mother of two. While she isn’t the traditional applicant, the Board was pleased to meet her: she maintained a full-time job at a local senior citizen residence and cared for her ailing mother and aunt. Her orthodontic needs were severe, Dr. Booth recalled.
"I'll treat anyone from anywhere, as long as they'll drive here for appointments," he said.
The foundation is still young, and Dr. Booth is working hard to get applications into the right hands. He hopes his colleagues will help him find suitable applicants.
"I want my colleagues to be aware that this exists and to help us find bona fide patients who need our treatment. Our goal is to give more than one scholarship a month. I've got a lot of giving back to do for good things that have happened to me," said the true Chicagoan. Dr. Booth is a graduate of Marist High School and the University of Illinois. He earned his dental degree in 1984 and completed a specialty program in orthodontics in 1986.
Upon graduation, he borrowed money from his parents to purchase an X-ray machine, and shared space with a local dentist. Today, this father of three (the oldest is in dental school) owns his own building just a few blocks away from that first office.
"Dentists are charitable and we donate in lots of ways to lots of causes," Dr. Booth said. "But orthodontic scholarships -- that's using something that we're really good at and that's unique. To give a child better self confidence – who knows where that will lead?"
Find more information about the Smile for a Lifetime of Southwest Chicagoland foundation, as well as applications for your patients, at http://boothorthodontics.com.
A tradition of working for the dental profession. The Chicago Dental Society was organized in 1864 and incorporated in 1878. The objective of the Chicago Dental Society is to encourage the improvement of the health of the public, to promote the art and science of dentistry and to represent the intrest of the members of the profession and the public that it serves.
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