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Giving Back

A Conversation with the Northland’s LevelUp Kids, Inc.

Article by Tiffany Killoren

Photography by Courtesy of LevelUp Kids, Inc

Originally published in Northland City Lifestyle

There are many things that we take for granted in life. Health is a big one, our days sent into chaos when we’re hit with a flu bug or suffer a nagging toothache that makes it hard to concentrate on our daily to-do lists. Busy parents schedule regular dentist appointments that their kids complain about going to and buy them glasses when needed to see the whiteboard. For many, these things are just part of life — basic preventative measures that keep our kids healthy.

Imagine not having access to dental and vision care. Imagine having kids who would love to see the dentist or get new glasses, but don’t have affordable access to either so they live with toothaches and struggle to see the math problem written on the board at school. LevelUp Kids, Inc.’s mission is to stop that from happening – it levels circumstances by providing free dental and vision care to kids in need so they can just focus on being kids.

Miles of Smiles, the dental arm of LevelUp Kids, coordinates with schools to provide on-site dental examinations and treatment to students who qualify. Christy May, Executive Director of LevelUp Kids, has been involved with the development and growth of its programs since starting as Dental Program Director with Miles of Smiles in 2002. After working as a practice administrator for a private neurology practice, she recognized a need in the community for those who can’t afford dental care for their children.  

“I quickly learned that health care is a business, and money and insurance companies drive most health care decisions,” she says. “I had the opportunity to start a school-based dental program that would benefit low-income children in the Northland where I lived.”

Although many people choose the Northland to call home for its quiet, safe neighborhoods and great schools, there are people suffering in our own backyards.

“Many people believe the Northland is not a high poverty or high need area,” Christy says. “But the families who are struggling, and there are many of them, have a hard time asking for help when they can’t afford dental care and vision care for their kids.”

By bringing these services directly to schools, LevelUp Kids can take one worry off busy families’ minds. 

ICare4Kids is the vision-focused part of the organization. Schools perform vision screenings on all students and based on these results, LevelUp Kids reaches out to students who have been identified as needing a follow-up exam. For those qualified, services and glasses are free of charge. Over 3,600 dental patients were seen in 2021, with over 10,400 vision screenings and 622 pairs of glasses distributed.

“The level of need for vision and dental care among low-income Northland students is tremendous,” Christy says. “There are only two other dental Medicaid providers and only a handful of optometrists in the Northland who accept Medicaid. There are no options for families who are uninsured and cannot afford to pay cash for services.”

And, because dental or vision issues can easily go undetected, the LevelUp Kids providers have seen children in fifth or sixth grades with extensive decay after never seeing a dentist, and children with eyeglass prescriptions so strong that they went far too long without being able to see classroom instruction.  

“We were gaining a lot of momentum in our education and awareness of our programs, and since Covid we are having to re-build that trust and that school-based reputation again,” Christy says. “The mouth and the eyes are the windows to the rest of the body and if they are not in good working order, then eating, learning and sleeping becomes more difficult and can affect our children’s success in school and life.” 

How Can You Help?

LevelUp Kids, Inc.’s primary fundraiser is a popular fashion show event at Argosy Casino. Scheduled for the evening of March 30, 2023, this stylish event brings together fashion, food, a silent auction and local celebrities on the runway for a wonderful cause. Purchase a table before December 16, 2022, and receive a $100 discount, premier table placement and the opportunity to hang out backstage with the models and celebrities before the show. Individual tickets are also available. Visit to register and learn more.

  • Alexandra, age 4
  • Mae’Kayle, age 8
  • Raegyn , age 6
  • Maximo