Faces of Christmas

12 Faces of Christmas: Pat and Mischelle DiCiccio give deserving children smiles for a lifetime

The basics: Dr. Pat DiCiccio, 56, is an orthodontic specialist who owns DiCiccio Orthodontics in north Fresno. He founded the Fresno/Clovis chapter of Smile for a Lifetime Foundation. His wife, Mischelle DiCiccio, 52, is board president of the local chapter. The Fresno couple have four children and one granddaughter.

What they do: Through nonprofit Smile for a Lifetime, DiCiccio Orthodontics has provided 29 scholarships since 2011 for free braces for children ages 11 to 17. Smile for a Lifetime’s local board of directors meets quarterly to choose scholarship recipients. Board members look at applicants’ academic standing in school, along with the financial need of the child’s family, in awarding scholarships. Pat DiCiccio says Smile for a Lifetime aims to help the “working poor,” parents who are “trying to do all the right things for their kids” but can’t afford braces.

Why they do it: When Pat DiCiccio was growing up, he received free braces from a family friend who was an orthodontist and it changed his life. “We just want to pay it forward,” Pat DiCiccio says. “There are just so many more kids in our community that deserve that experience.”

The couple were also influenced by their faith and schooling at Loma Linda University, a Christian university that stresses the importance of giving back. “Mission work doesn’t always mean you have to go to Africa or a third-world country,” Pat DiCiccio says. “There are so many mission programs in your own community that sometimes have a bigger need than some of the overseas programs.”

The turning point: Pat DiCiccio founded the local chapter of Smile for a Lifetime in 2011 after talking with the founder of the national foundation during a meeting. DiCiccio Orthodontics had been providing free braces for children in need for many years, and Smile for a Lifetime provided more structure to help the office continue doing so.

Details, details: The Fresno/Clovis chapter is locally run, and all orthodontic work comes from DiCiccio Orthodontics. Some scholarship recipients have also received free dental work and had wisdom teeth removed by an oral surgeon on the Smile for a Lifetime board. The local chapter committed to giving free braces to 12 children a year (or even more, Pat DiCiccio adds), but haven’t had enough qualified applicants. Applications are accepted year-round for children in the Fresno/Clovis area. More information can be found online at diciccioortho.com/content/smile-lifetime.

Mischelle DiCiccio surprises some of the children while at school with news they will receive braces. She’s seen kids who were uncomfortable interacting with others come out of an emotional “box” before her eyes. “Once they know they are on that road to that new smile, even the way they carry themselves is just totally, totally different.”

After braces are removed, DiCiccio Orthodontics throws a mini celebration, singing silly songs while wearing funky hats. The child is then allowed to peruse their “candy store” as a reward for not eating chewy treats while their braces were on.

What others say: One of their scholarship recipients, Ashley Franco, 12, got her braces off this month. Ashley said she’s “more outgoing” now because she had braces.

When Ashley learned she would receive braces, she shed tears of joy. “I’m really thankful for all the staff and family, and I’m never going to forget that day and everything they’ve done for me.”

How you can help: Donations to support Smile for a Lifetime can be made online at diciccioortho.com/content/smile-lifetime. Details: call 559-225-2251 or email s4l.fresno.clovis@gmail.com.

Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge

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