Editor's Note: The Herald found 12 days worth of things you can do for yourself, your family or for others to make this Christmas just that much better. Columnist Andrew Dys wraps up our series with a story about some of your neighbors who didn't stop at doing the easy thing to make a child's Christ- mas -- indeed his future -- much, much brighter.
This kid didn't want a bicycle. No video games, either, for this 14-year-old foster child. Not an iPod or CDs or the coolest clothes.
"I want my teeth fixed," he told his case worker.
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This kid wanted a smile for Christmas.
"All he kept saying was he wanted braces," said that case worker, Melanie Shiver, with York County Intensive Foster Care and Clinical Services. "I tried through agencies and normal routes. Medicaid said no, that it was cosmetic so they wouldn't pay. Everything we tried just didn't work out."
Somebody with Allen Tate Realtors heard about this kid. The company has for years been active with the Angel Tree program, which provides gifts for kids in need. The boy's name was submitted, but this wasn't your normal gift.
Along the commercial avenue of Ebenezer Road, word of this kid got around. The word traveled, snaked, until it stopped at a nondescript brick building. Inside that building works a guy named Dr. Kevin Miller.
Miller looks so young he should be wearing braces. But he's 32, three years practicing orthodontics in Rock Hill, and his practice is busy and lively. The place makes smiles -- literally, and in spirit.
Miller heard about this Angel Tree program. He heard about this kid, in foster care since age 4, who had crooked teeth.
"I wore braces," Miller said. "I know what braces can do for a teenager's self-esteem."
And Miller remembered when he was about 14 in Spartanburg, and he went to a job shadowing at his orthodontist's office. That guy that very day of Miller's visit 18 years ago was installing a set of braces for a needy child. A light went on with Miller when the call came in from Angel Tree to his office asking if he could help.
He did more than help. Miller offered the whole shooting match -- consultation, braces, and the two years of follow-up -- for free.
"How often do you get to make a difference in somebody's life that lasts a lifetime?" Miller asked. "This way, what this young man gets lasts forever."
Any parent who has paid for braces knows that the cost averages about $5,000.
This sure is no video game or bike for Christmas.
When the boy, whose name I know and Dr. Miller knows but is not being revealed because of his foster care status, came from where he lives now in Sumter for his first consultation, he didn't smile that much. By the time he found out he was getting braces, his smile lit up the room.
"He's been so excited right from that first day," said Shiver, the social worker.
Then a few days ago, this 14-year-old kid strode in to get his braces on. He looked in every mirror in the place with a smile that beamed.
He said he likes girls and math -- it sure seemed like girls was higher on his list than math. Good for him. Girls were higher on my list at 14, too.
Then Miller the orthodontist got down to business. The young man lay back in that dental chair as the place brimmed with joy, and the braces went on. It could be two years, up to three, before those teeth are straight and the jaw is right and straight and true.
But you couldn't tell that by watching this kid getting worked on by the leanest, youngest looking Santa Claus anybody ever saw. The kid's smile, just getting started toward perfection, given by a guy he had never met until a month before, already seemed perfect.
"Wait a couple of years," the kid said. "Then you will really see something special."
On that day, in that dentist's office, I already had.