Category: Stories

Embracing Futures puts smiles on faces

Girl with freckles

For many years, Olivia Rodgers refused to smile for school pictures. But these days, the 15-year-old from Akron easily flashes a grin and snaps “selfies” without any hesitation. A local program created decades ago to put smiles on the faces of adolescents who can’t afford much-needed orthodontics provided her with free braces.

She completed her orthodontic care earlier this year. “I can’t even put into words what a difference it made for her — not only her appearance, but the confidence she has,” said her mother, Shawnnie Conley. “It’s a really big difference,” Olivia agreed. “I don’t feel ashamed of my smile anymore.” The Beacon Journal Charity Fund, founded in 1946 by newspaper publisher John S. Knight and other civic leaders, recently changed its name to Embracing Futures Inc. The board opted to change the name to better describe the group’s mission, Executive Director Mark Fairhurst said. The charity and the newspaper went separate ways in 1987, but Beacon Journal employees and former employees still serve on the agency’s board of trustees. “We wanted a name that was more descriptive and more reflective of the programs we do now,” he said.

The agency helps about 40 teens a year from Summit, Stark, Portage, Medina and Wayne counties get free care from local orthodontists who accept reduced fees from the charity fund for their work. A network of 16 participating orthodontists agree to accept $3,600 — the same amount Medicaid pays — from the charity to provide braces to selected patients, Fairhurst said. The typical charge for orthodontic care in the region can be as high as $7,500. The agency’s $130,000 budget this year for orthodontic care comes primarily from donations from area foundations.

Embracing Futures also provides oral health education to more than 5,600 third-graders throughout Summit, Stark and Portage counties each year through its Dr. Milton Rubin Oral Health Program. The former name often led to confusion with potential donors, who thought the organization was funded by the newspaper, Fairhurst said. “We needed to change the name because the funding needed to come up,” he said. To be eligible for free orthodontic care through the program, children must have severe orthodontic problems that Medicaid, Healthy Start or other state-funded programs have refused to cover.

Patients must come from families that earn 250 percent or less of the federal poverty level, or $58,875 for a family of four. For those who don’t meet the guidelines, Fairhurst said, Embracing Futures sometimes offers interest-free loans to help families pay for braces. “We try to find a way to help families nobody else is assisting,” Fairhurst said. “At the end of the day, it’s about the child.”

 By Cheryl Powell Beacon –  Journal medical writer Published: June 7, 2014 – 09:06 PM

For more information about Embracing Futures, visit or call 330-253-7700. Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or Follow Powell on Twitter at