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DENVER - Michael Welchert welled up with tears as he watched his daughters sit in the orthodontist's chair. He was witnessing a moment he never thought he'd see: the moment when his daughters got braces.

"Our understanding is that [it would cost] $14,000 or $15,000," said Welchert. "And where we are, personally, it was not an option."

Welchert and his wife have five children. The two youngest Mackenzie, 15, and Sydney, 12, were in need of braces that the family simply couldn't afford. But one non-profit organization doesn't want the expense to be a deterrent for parents who may not be able to afford braces for their children.

Smile for a Lifetime Foundation is a national non-profit organization with headquarters in Colorado Springs. The organization's mission statement shows that it aims to "create self-confidence, inspire hope and change the lives of children in our communities in a dramatic way."

There are 200 orthodontists across the country who donate their services, including Dr. Kevin Theroux in Lone Tree.

"We give out eight to ten sets of braces a year," said Theroux. The organization believes that the gift of a smile can change a child's life. Scholarships for free braces are awarded based on orthodontic needs, special situations and financial need. Most children who qualify for free or reduced lunch meet the income eligibility to apply for the free braces.

Children have to write essays to compete for the scholarships. Dr. Theroux also requires his scholarship recipients to complete a 40-hour service project to "pay it forward."

Thirteen-year-old Jazmin Pena volunteered at Children's Hospital and another organization when she got her free braces. Even though her braces have been removed, Jazmin has decided to continue her community service.

"I think I'm going to make a difference, now that I know I can," she said.

Dr. Therox says that the program is about more than aesthetics. Nice smiles have given the kids in his office more confidence to do everything from making new friends to pursuing their dreams.

"We're trying to change their smiles and their lives and their outlook on life," he said.

Dr. Therox is accepting applications for the ten sets of free braces that will be given away this year. To download the application, visit: www.therouxorthodontics.com

To learn more about Smile for a Lifetime and applying for free braces in the Denver metro area and beyond, visit:http://www.s4l.org/about-the-foundation/about-us.aspx

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