For more than a decade, Dr. Alena Spielberg has made hundreds of smiles brighter through her work as an orthodontist in Apex. She's seen shy kids leave her office with a confident smile when the work was done.
While she was thrilled to help her patients, she also knew she was ready to give back to the community where she and her husband are raising their own two kids.
Spielberg heard about Smiles for a Lifetime from colleagues. The national nonprofit with local chapters around the country offers free orthodontic care to needy kids. Spielberg watched videos of her colleagues' patients and saw how excited they were to have a new smile.
"I was truly moved," she tells me. "It was something I wanted to get involved with."
Braces straighten teeth, but they also can provide medical benefits too. Spielberg tells me that properly fitting teeth can mean fewer cavities and better protected enamel, for example.
Some, but not all, insurance plans cover the procedures, which can cost around $4,000 and $7,000 in the Triangle. The high price tag puts the service out of reach for many families.
Spielberg got to work to start a local chapter of Smiles for a Lifetime and set up a board of community members, who will review applications and decide who will win the scholarships. The group now is contacting schools, churches, crisis centers and other agencies that serve the kids who might need some help.
Kids ages 11 to 18, who are currently in school, are eligible. They must have a visible need for braces. Spielberg says kids who qualify for free or reduced lunch at school typically meet the group's income requirements.
The board will approve six scholarships a year, starting this year. Spielberg will do the work, which typically takes about two years. She'll focus on serving the western Wake County region. Dr. Steve Bumgarner, an orthodontist with offices in Wake Forest, Raleigh and Knightdale, also offers the program in Wake County.
To find out more about Smiles for a Lifetime, click here to see its website. Click here to go to Spielberg's website, where you'll find an application for the program. And watch the video to hear more from Spielberg.