We Select for Success


One day after a particularly violent thunderstorm, an old man sat on a rock overlooking the seashore. The beach, normally pristine white sand, was, on account of the rough surf, littered with what seemed to be a million starfish. Not long after the old man assumed his seaside perch, he noticed, out of the corner of his eye, a young boy walking slowly down the beach picking up one starfish after another and throwing them back into the sea. This went on for several minutes until the boy had worked his way near where the old man sat.

“What are you doing down there young man?” he asked inquiringly. “Why, I’m picking up starfish washed on the beach by the storm and throwing them back into the ocean so they might live.”

“But there are a million starfish washed up on the sand,” the old man retorted, “so what difference does it make that you are going to all this trouble? You are barely making a dent in the stranded population.”

Whereupon, the boy, with a knowing grin on his face, stooped down and picked up one of the many starfish lying helpless on the white sand and showed it to the old man before flinging it back into the sea. “You see”, the young boy said to his puzzled spectator, “it made a lot of difference to that one!”


This oft quoted story is a perfect metaphor for Smiles Change Lives. We know that we cannot change the fortunes of all kids whose lives would be altered by securing orthodontic treatment – rather – we can only make a difference to one child at a time. Does this matter in the grand scheme of things? We think it does for sure – every child selected for our program will impact a whole community of people around him or her – parents, siblings, neighbors, teachers, classmates and friends.

But you know who else realizes a huge boost from a successful outcome of a Smiles patient (and for 20 years virtually all of the thousands of patients treated have been such a positive result) – the doctors, office staff and all other people involved in providing treatment to each child. A source of pride, satisfaction, and the knowledge that a multitude of lives have been changed is a significant reward for all involved– the type of reward available to very few people.

But with so many children needing help, how are some selected to enter our program? The answer to that goes to the heart of what makes SCL a most viable organization.

We know that the doctors must have a positive experience from donating their services to each and every SCL patient. We know that positive experience can only come from a grateful, responsible patient and family.

Thus, SCL chooses kids (whose families could not otherwise afford this life-changing treatment on their own) on the basis of projected success – a good dental outcome to be sure, a sense that this will lead to increased self-esteem and lifelong opportunity for happiness and, most important, that the patient and family will follow directions and appreciate the opportunity presented.

“So many kids wanting treatment and so few spaces to accommodate them!” one could easily say. “Why go to the trouble of selecting one kid over another?” Well, the answer is simple – much like the starfish in our story; it makes a huge difference for the child, the family and all involved with the process.


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