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!
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Vets with Horsepower, an inspirational group of fundraisers!

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After a 4,000 mile motorbike journey through Russia, Finland, Denmark, and Germany the Vets with Horsepower group is proud to say,” we have raised a total of 300+ new smiles for Smile Train. The Horsepower team is proud to help Smile Train in its work and we are immensely grateful to the sponsors, supporters and Smile Train itself for their kindness and encouragement. It was worth every blister and every mile.”

Team rider Derek Knottenbelt says of this year’s trip, “The dust has settled after our amazing motorbike trip to St Petersburg in the summer. Sure it was tough from time to time, but this was NOTHING compared to the life-time of hardship suffered by people with unrepaired clefts. Our satisfaction on safe completion of our trip is matched by our satisfaction that in raising just under £50,000 we have made a significant life-change to 300+ people.”

Smile Trains UK’s Amerjit Chohan, Director, Fundraising, comments: “The sheer commitment and dedication from everyone has been utterly amazing. We’re so proud that Derek and the Vets with Horsepower team chose to support Smile Train. The money they raised will help provide new smiles for more than 300 children. Their efforts will have a lasting legacy for these children. Thank you Vets with Horsepower for all your support.”

How a Smile Created A Personal Mission

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New York, NYSmile Train supporter Lisa Fast shares her experiences with cleft and Smile Train.

After having such a positive experience dealing with my cleft lip and cleft palate, it has become my passion to help others achieve the same happiness in life. A life without a repaired cleft would be unbearable. Personally, I would not have made it through my years of soccer and would not currently be at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Sophomore year of high school I truly realized how lucky I was to have grown up with the treatment, doctors, and support that I did.

I initially became involved with Smile Train when I made a personal fundraising page. I set my goal as $5,000. I wrote emails and letters to family, friends, and neighbors creating awareness of the fund. Also, after my soccer games I would recycle water bottles from teammates. Because recycling is only a few cents a bottle, whatever I made recycling my mother would match. In place of birthday gifts, I asked for donations to be made. Between these sources I reached my goal of $5,000 in as quickly as one month. I then decided to bump up my goal to $10,000 because why not continue to help other children have a chance to receive a new smile?

Lisa and Mom2 A deeper involvement with Smile Train began after the tragic passing of my mother my junior year of high school. Because of her equal passion for helping others with clefts, our family created a Smile Train Memorial Fund in her honor. As of today, the total value of gifts on her page is $138,634.28 from 624 donors. Between myself, and now with the loss of my mother, over 590 children will be able to receive surgery. These numbers reflect the impact my mother had on others; she was one of a kind. The community continues to donate knowing how much mother would appreciate it.

After four years of fundraising for Smile Train, this summer I had an extraordinary opportunity to intern for them. For five weeks, I got to live in New York and come to their headquarters office every day for work. It was a special experience to see the network of people work together to maximize the amount of children receiving cleft surgery. I am thankful to have been able to contribute not only from a fundraising side, but also from the business side. I learned about so many different professional roles and skills in the time of my internship. I have been lucky to have had such a great relationship with Smile Train and it is because of all the opportunity they give me to stay involved.

Without a doubt, there are times I wish I did not have to face the challenges that come with cleft. Growing up I had to go to countless amounts of doctor’s appointments whether it was speech therapy, the oral surgeon, or the orthodontist. After nine years of braces, I was convinced they were never coming off. Last summer I endured jaw surgery. To recover, I needed to have my jaw wired shut for six weeks and was unable to speak. I always wonder what it would be like to have a “normal” lip. However, I always remind myself that I was lucky to even have had this treatment. In retrospect, I am thankful I was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate because it is the reason I got involved with Smile Train.

The happiness a fixed smile will bring a child is so empowering and motivating. They will get to attend school, have many friends, and be able to participate in extracurricular activities. Every child deserves those joys in life. There is no doubt that the children around the world who receive their cleft lip and cleft palate repair surgery will go on to live a remarkable life. Smile Train is an incredible international charity that gives three hundred and fifty children and their families an opportunity to live a better life every day.

Smile Train Surgeons and a Beauty Queen Deliver Smiles in Vietnam

Little Corn Maize before and after his Smile Train surgery.

Little Corn Maize before and after his Smile Train surgery.

Hanoi, Vietnam—Nine-month-old Do Tran Gia Bao, affectionately known as Corn Maize by his family, was born in Hanoi, Vietnam. His parents were thrilled when they found out Corn Maize’s mother was pregnant as they had wanted children for many years. Both maternal and paternal families were happy and encouraging when he was born, which was very important as Corn Maize was born with a cleft lip and palate.

The entire family frantically searched for a solution to Corn Maize’s birth defect. None of them had ever heard of cleft lip and palate, let alone seen one.

One day a solution came. While she was working at a spa, Corn Maize’s aunt fortunately had a very special customer: Miss Vietnam. After listening to the aunt describe Corn Maize’s condition and the efforts the family had gone through to help the baby boy, Miss Vietnam decided to seek treatment for Corn Maize.

The only memory the family has of Corn Maize before surgery is on his father's phone.

The only memory the family has of Corn Maize before surgery is on his father’s phone.

The beauty queen contacted many places and was given information about Smile Train. She quickly motivated Corn Maize’s parents to bring their child to Smile Train partner Vietnam Cuba Hospital located in Hanoi, letting them know their son would be in good hands and that the surgery was completely free. According to Corn Maize’s parents “the compassionate surgeons returned the face of their child to smiles and laughter.”

The Smile Train surgeons were equally impressed with the parents as the scar from Corn Maize’s surgery healed very quickly because they rigorously followed the surgeons’ directions for their son’s postoperative care.

Before his Smile Train surgery, Corn Maize’s parents did not leave the house with their new baby boy as they were worried about the reaction of strangers. Now though, they can’t stop showing their happy little boy off! Corn Maize will soon have another surgery to fix his palate, but his father’s only memory of Corn Maize’s first surgery is a photo he took with his phone right before he took his little boy to the hospital. Now the family says they enjoy limitless happiness and believe “there is nothing more beautiful than a smile that has overcome a lot of tears.”