Blake Haugland: Turning Lug Nuts Into Smiles

In his own words Smile Train supporter, Blake Haugland explains what motivates him to fundraise for Smile Train.

No matter how you look at it, an athlete competing in a triathlon is competing for their own personal satisfaction and that’s a great thing, but race after race I started feeling like I wanted to cross the finish line for more than myself or a new “PR”. That’s when I found Smile Train. Knowing that I could use my triathlon races and connections in NASCAR to help change a child’s life was the perfect way for my wife Melissa and myself to do this.

Through my coaching business LIMITLESS MULTISPORT TRAINING I have been able to donate a percentage of my earnings toward our Smile Train goal which is awesome because it’s a way my athletes can help raise money and train! Another amazing tool I have been able to use has been offering lug nuts from our pit stops to race fans for a donation. We have thousands of fans who tour pit road prior to the race start and they are able to come by our pit stall and hang out and grab an authentic lug nut from the prior week’s race. In the past we used to literally leave these used lug nuts on the ground or they would get thrown in the trash but now they are being turned into smiles!

I know sometimes it can be financially difficult for people to donate money but if you can incorporate it into a purchase they are already planning on making you can hit a home run every time! I want to thank Michael Waltrip Racing and NASCAR for the opportunity to make these children have a better quality of life. See you at the track!

Jessica Gutierrez: Journey To Save A Life


Jessica Gutierrez (above, center) tells us about her visit to see local Smile Train medical partners in Buenos Aires, Argentina and a young mother who made a strong impression on her.

Buenos Aires, Argentina – I am an Associate, Direct Marketing at Smile Train and every day I see pictures of the wonderful new smiles of our patients. I am always in awe of the great work our partner surgeons and medical staff do every day of the year. Recently, I was given the opportunity to visit some of Smile Train’s local in-country partners in Argentina to see first-hand the impact one simple surgery has on not only a child, but their whole family. When I arrived at Asociación PIEL, I noticed a woman looking very nervous staring at her baby. I went over and the anxious mother, Giuliana, introduced herself and her baby, Juan Ignacio. He was a vivacious and happy little boy, and he chuckled every time I waved at him. Giuliana told me how scared and shocked she was when she first realized her child had been born with a cleft. She had never seen anyone with a cleft before and didn’t know what to do. As soon as she heard about Asociación PIEL she knew she had to make the trip to have her son treated.


Giuliana lives almost two hours from Buenos Aires, she traveled with her mother-in-law on a bus to our partner surgeon, Dr. Bennun, to treat Juan Ignacio. I happened to meet her the day before Juan Ignacio’s surgery, which helped me understand why she seemed extra nervous. Giuliana felt better when we spoke to another mother whose son had been successfully treated by Dr. Bennun and was visiting for follow-up care. The following day, I talked to Giuliana right before Juan Ignacio’s surgery. She was nervous but also anxious to see her son after the surgery. She had heard other parents say that they didn’t even recognize their child after surgery and she couldn’t wait to see his new smile!

I left the hospital that day knowing that not only Juan Ignacio’s life, but also Giuliana’s was about to change. She now has the confidence that Juan Ignacio will grow and develop just like any other child and will have the opportunity to live a full life. The experience of meeting families like Juan Ignacio’s showed me just how powerful the work Smile Train and our partners are doing. I recently sent his mother some of the pictures I took while I was in Buenos Aires and I can’t wait to hear about how Juan Ignacio is doing – smiling a lot I bet!


Besha Medical Centre’s Cleft Week June 24-29, 2013

Smile Train staffer Jane Ngige (right) and Smile Train Patient Paskali Mading’a pose for a photo shortly after Paskali's free cleft surgery at Besha Medical Centre in Tanga, Tanzania.

Smile Train staffer Jane Ngige (right) and Smile Train Patient Paskali Mading’a pose for a photo shortly after Paskali’s free cleft surgery at Besha Medical Centre in Tanga, Tanzania.

Tanga, Tanzania—Smile Train Africa’s Program Assistant Jane Ngige reports from the the field.

Besha Medical Centre’s Cleft Week was recently held from June 24th-29th. At the time of my visit on June 25th, six cleft patients had already been admitted at the hospital. Prior to the cleft week, awareness creation was done through radio, newspapers, and distribution of posters by way of bus transportation, hospital staff and volunteer mobilizers. A Smile Train-branded van also came in very handy in venturing into the village to create awareness about the ongoing free cleft surgery Smile Train program. Districts in Tanzania the staff visited in the region included Muheza, Lushoto, and Pangani. The staff at Besha Medical Centre are already making plans to visit Kilindi and Handeni districts which are a bit farther away.

Paskali before surgery.

Paskali before surgery.

Paskali Mading’a’s Story
I will call Paskali the old guy who is more of a risk taker than the younger generation from his village. I use ‘risk-taker’ very loosely – it’s more of faith and hope for a better future. Paskali is a 51-year-old gentleman that has lived with a cleft lip all his life. This was not because he did not want or seek treatment earlier. The cleft bothered him but he never had enough money to have it corrected – and later in life, he went to different clinics and was told it was too late to get treatment. In other words what they said was: “This is your life, accept it.” Good thing this did not deter him, because now he has the most beautiful smile. When word came to his village about the free cleft surgery at Besha Health Centre, six patients were identified but were skeptical about the treatment, fearing the operating table. All except him. He traveled over ten hours with a friend who, two days later, requested the surgeon to take a photo of Paskali after the surgery. He printed it, left Paskali in hospital, and traveled all the way back home to show everyone Paskali’s transformation. Needless to say, the rest of the patients hurriedly made way to the hospital for their own transformation!