Monica was born with a cleft lip and palate in Snohomish, Washington. As an infant she had to stay in the hospital for months because of her many medical complications. Since then she has had five surgeries pertaining to her cleft, but with strength and determination, Monica made it through it all and is now a healthy student at Glacier Peak High School.
Monica joined her school’s Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) with the idea to start a fundraiser for less fortunate children with clefts and Smile Train. In the fundraiser’s first year Monica was able to raise enough for money one surgery.
This year, now as Vice President of Community Service for FBLA, Monica had the opportunity to give a presentation in her school’s auditorium about Smile Train and her own personal story. In her speech Monica says, “…a smile is a symbol of peace, happiness, and love.”
“Over my lifetime I have changed from a person who stood on the sidelines and watched life move around me…to a person who took control of my own destiny. I can say that I am a lot better for it. I was blessed with the opportunity when I received my lifesaving surgery and have had family, friends, and mentors who have supported me throughout my entire life. It is an honor to be able to come to this phenomenal school and stand up on this stage in front of you all today. Unfortunately, those blessings aren’t universal. There are children who get turned away from ever going to school and whose families abandon them.”
Watch Monica’s full presentation here.
This year her school raised enough money for more than six children to get new smiles. Monica says, “Over these past two years, it has been an honor to be able to share Smile Train’s mission and to be able to support an amazing organization that not only gives the gift of a smile, but a gift of hope.”
On April 24, 2015 Pleasant Hill Elementary School in Columbia South Carolina held its 9th Mini-Marathon for Smile Train. Physical Education teacher and real-world Smile Train super hero Thomas Cronin, who was born with a cleft lip and palate, hosts the event every year. He says that he feels so fortunate that he was able to receive surgery when he was a child, and his hope is that every child born with a cleft is able to have the same opportunities for a healthy and productive life that he was given.
On the day of the event each grade level (Kindergarten through Fifth grade) runs and walks for 30 minutes on the school’s outdoor track. This year, the event raised a total of $13,090 for Smile Train. This is enough to provide surgery for 52 children with cleft lips and palates.
Smile Train’s Mini Marathon has become a tradition at Pleasant Hill Elementary School. This year, Smile Train’s own Director, Program Development, Shannon Lambert, got to attend the event, walk around the track with some students, and answer student questions. She said some of the most common questions were “How many surgeries did Smile Train help provide last year?” and “How long does it take to complete a surgery?” One student, a young boy, shared a story with Shannon about his cousin that lives in Guadalajara, Mexico who was born with a cleft. His cousin didn’t have transportation to get to a treatment facility, so the little boy’s family in South Carolina drove to Mexico to bring the boy to the hospital for surgery.
Overall, Pleasant Hill Elementary School’s Smile Train Mini Marathon gives the students a chance to learn more about a meaningful cause, and how something as simple as a smile can change a life, all while getting fit at the same time.
Grainne McElhone, a former cleft patient, donated her 30th birthday to Smile Train. We recently had the chance to ask her some questions.
How did you become involved with Smile Train and why?
A few years ago I spoke to a doctor who happened to be a Smile Train supporter. Up until that point, I didn’t know much about Smile Train so I did some research and decided I wanted to help This was when I came up with the idea of a sponsored birthday… my 30th was coming up and I thought it would be the best way to celebrate it!
What motivates you to keep supporting Smile Train?
Following my research into the charity, it made me appreciate how lucky and fortunate I was to receive the care that I did. It made me realise that many children and adults in developing countries may not get the opportunity to have their clefts repaired without the support of Smile Train.
How did you support Smile Train?
To celebrate my 30th birthday this year I held a coffee morning in lieu of gifts from friends and family. I asked them for a donation to Smile Train, in which I was able to raise over £1,900, an amount I was overwhelmed with and could not have reached without a lot of help from my family and friends.
What makes you Smile?
Friends and family always make me smile and laugh, going for cocktails, new clothes and random acts of kindness. Receiving and giving always wins a smile!
Why do you give to Smile Train?
To give someone else the smile that I was lucky enough to get.
Sichuan Province, China – The arrival of a new baby typically brings a lot of happiness to a family, but when little Jiaxin was born with a cleft lip and palate the Yangs knew they wouldn’t be able to afford surgery for their child. To get Jiaxin the help she needed the family moved to Chengdu in hopes that the city would have better medical facilities.
To survive in their new city, Jiaxin’s father worked doing manual labor at a construction site, and her grandmother and grandfather worked long hours every day to make extra money for the family. All of the hard work was worth it when the Yangs found out that Smile Train’s local partner hospital, West China College of Stomatology Sichuan University, would be able to give Jiaxin the help she needed.
Jiaxin, with the help of Smile Train, began her journey to a new smile with free cleft lip surgery. Since her surgery, Jiaxin’s family said they now have a new sense of hope and a more positive attitude in their own lives.
Today, 2-year-old Jiaxin is a lovely and lively girl who loves to laugh and talk.
In March 2015, Jiaxin met Smile Train’s CEO, Susannah Schaefer, along with Shi Bing, Vice President of West China Stomatology Hospital of Sichuan University, and Dr. Shell Xue, Senior Vice President and Regional Director of Smile Train North Asia. Susannah was in China supporting the local nurses at a special training conference. Susannah’s advice to little Jiaxin was to continue to have the confidence to overcome difficulties and to embrace her new life.
Jiaxin’s mother is very grateful to Smile Train for giving Jiaxin the ability to be like the other children, and a second chance at life. She said that Smile Train not only gave them financial help, but also brought hope to them and an opportunity for a brighter future.
Smile Train supporter Peggy Kamphausen recently shared a heartwarming story of how her now late mother, at 94 years old, wanted to get a job to help a special Smile Train patient. Below is the story in Peggy’s own words.
I took care of my parents when they were 94 years old. While my mother’s mind wasn’t always clear, her beautiful heart continued to feel. She saw a magazine ad for Smile Train with pictures of children before their clefts were repaired. She managed to tell me she wanted to get a job so she could afford to help the cleft children. With tears in her eyes, she pointed to the picture of the most severely affected little boy, “Him…I have to help him!” she said.
My beautiful mom and dad have passed away now, but every Christmas I honor her request. In my adult children’s Christmas stockings, I place a note that $250 has been donated in their Grandma and Grandpa’s memory to help a child. It is our special Christmas tradition.
There is peace and warmth in a smile. To me the Power Of A Smile is a universal language that instantly connects one heart to another. God bless everyone at Smile Train for the amazing work that they do. And for helping me to fulfill my mother’s longing to help.
Kimmy Flaviano, Country Manager, Philippines talks about what the Power Of A Smile means to her.
What first inspired you to work at Smile Train?
When I first heard about Smile Train, I had always worked for corporations and I was hesitant to apply. But I researched Smile Train and when I found a single surgery could change the life of a child forever. How could I say “no”? It was an opportunity to help change the lives of tens of thousands of Filipinos with a simple surgery. Find a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life. I found that job at Smile Train!
What do you think the Power Of A Smile is?
A smile can change everything. You could be in a restaurant and if the server doesn’t greet you with a smile, it changes your mood. You see an old friend and you know how she doing by how wide is her smile is. When your month-old baby smiles back at you, it melts your heart, and you know that you are everything in the world to him.
What has the Power of A Smile done for you in your life?
Since working with Smile Train, I have become more appreciative of the little things in life. I’ve learned not to take things for granted. I think about all the hard work our partners do and it warms my heart. I think about how patients travel for days to get to a Smile Train partner. It doesn’t just affect how I do things at Smile Train, but also at home and how I interact with friends and family, and raise my children.
Bere was born in Hidalgo Mexico with a cleft lip and palate. Bere’s mother, Domitila said that Bere had several cleft related medical problems, but despite them, she was a happy little girl.
When Bere got older she was excited to start her first day of school. However, when she got there the other kids made fun of her and started to call her names. When she returned home after her first day, Bere told her mother she never wanted to go back to school again. Bere became ashamed to talk at school because her schoolmates would come and look at her mouth and stare. So Bere gave up speaking at school altogether, and until her mom would pick her up at the end of the day she would just sit in a chair saying nothing.
Fortunately, Domitila found out about Smile Train, and was relieved to find that they would give Bere free surgery, she could not afford, to fix her cleft lip and palate. After the surgery her mother was so pleased and they both decided they would give school a second chance. A few weeks after the surgery, Bere was back in school and the other children were happy to see her.
Now Bere is doing great, she has many friends, and is much more talkative and outgoing. Her mother says, before Bere’s surgery she would never draw faces with a mouth, but now she loves drawing them and now the mouths always have a smile.