100 Miles for 100 Smiles

Team Empower_RGB_Primary_fullcolorDSC_0511

Ultramarathon runner David Coligado recently completed a 24-hour, 100 mile treadmill run in an effort to raise enough funds for 100 Smile Train cleft surgeries. David’s girlfriend Mary recounts his motivations and experience in completing this incredible feat.


I cannot convey in words how inspiring and memorable this weekend has been. Thank you from the deepest depths of my heart for all of your efforts to support Dave since the conception of this crazy idea. You are tops in my book.

I wanted to share but a few highlights from the weekend that will stay with me always:

Chicago police officers driving by the Lululemon store raising their hands in support of Dave.

Midnight: lights off. A glow in the dark sticks/dance workout that illuminated the room. Dave on the treadmill. DJ spinning tunes.

3 AM: twerk-off/dance off 🙂

4 AM: a group of about 80 people singing Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” and George Michael’s “Freedom” in unison with Dave while he ran.

A maxillofacial surgeon and a craniofacial surgeon, both in town for a conference, saw the story on the news. They walked in to Lululemon, each donating $500 in cash in support of Smile Train.

People holding up the pictures Smile Train provided of the kids and adults in the window every hour and during Dave’s few moments of struggle. They were also posted all around him throughout the run and brought more than a few people to tears.

The security guard, a total machismo, south side old school Chicago kinda guy, singing along with us and crying when Dave hit his 100 miles.

Between the hours of 1 AM-4 AM: drunk people on the street walking by confused and slack jawed upon hearing the DJ blasting music, Dave running on the treadmill, and all of us dancing, working out, and singing, with the store doors wide open welcoming all to join us. Several of them digging in their pockets to contribute whatever crumpled up dollar bills they had left.

8:30 AM: as we were cleaning and the treadmills were being hauled away, a man, who saw the story on the news, walked in and handed Dave $250 in cash for Smile Train. He offered his congratulations, and walked out.

DSC_0675

DSC_0932

DSC_0182_2

DSC_0368

…Certainly one of the most memorable 24 hours of our lives. Thank you to ALL of the folks at Smile Train for their efforts to make this idea a reality.

It’s easy to get caught up in the pomp and circumstance of the fundraising event, but the children who will ultimately benefit from the money raised have been at the forefront of our minds throughout.

Still delirious from this weekend’s event, Dave and I hobbled to the kitchen this morning, seeking coffee. We stopped to take a detailed look at the piles of photos that lay on our counter. Moving images of children and adults from clinics around the world holding up signs of thanks and support for Dave. We talked about what a collaboration it must have been to collect such an inspirational tribute. We were balling. Consider us lifelong Smile Train supporters and advocates.

With love and gratitude,
Mary Oleszek


Team Empower_RGB_Primary_fullcolor

Smile Train Team EMPOWER gives athletes around the world the opportunity to make every step, every lap and every mile count toward giving a child not only a new smile, but a second chance at life.

Pleasant Hill Elementary School Mini Marathon for Smile Train

Smile Train supporter Tom Cronin was born with a cleft now, together with his students he raises money for children to receive free cleft lip and palate surgery

Columbia, SCThomas Cronin, Physical Education Teacher, Pleasant Hill Elementary and Mini Marathon Event Director shares how his students are creating smiles around the world. Our deepest thanks to Tom and all of the students, staff, and faculty of Pleasant Hill Elementary and everyone involved!

I was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate. Fortunately, I was born in the United States and had surgeries to repair my cleft. There are more than one million children in developing countries who do not have this opportunity. They grow up with an unrepaired cleft and live a life of shame. They are abandoned, do not go to school or get married. Smile Train is a charity that provides free cleft surgery for these children.

Over the last 9 years, my wife and I have made personal donations to Smile Train, but I wanted to do more. I immediately thought of my role as a physical education teacher. In 2007, The Pleasant Hill Elementary School Mini Marathon was created to help Smile Train and increase the physical fitness level of my students.

Pleasant Hill Elementary raises funds to provide free cleft lip and palate surgery

The mini marathon starts several weeks before the actual run and walk. The students view videos and pictures about Smile Train during physical education class prior to the run/walk. The knowledge about Smile Train and clefts helps the students understand why they are running and walking and who they are raising money to help. All students receive a Smile Train bracelet, and many students earn a Pleasant Hill Elementary mini marathon t-shirt. Our 5th grade art students contribute by making event posters.

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. By the end of the day over 900 students run and walk in support of Smile Train. The students are able to complete the mini marathon by using the lessons of running pace, running stride and proper breathing technique taught during physical education class. Some older and advanced students run the whole 30 minutes and complete almost 3 miles, while some of the younger students alternate between running and walking. This pattern enables them to complete 1.5 miles.

Students of Pleasant Hill Elementary School ran to provide free cleft surgery

The Mini Marathon is directly related to Lexington School District One’s LexLives strategic goal. This is related to improving the health and wellness of its students by increasing fitness and decreasing obesity. Families and the community are also involved.Families walk and run with their children. Local business partners sponsor the event and also participate in the run and walk.

In the 7 years this event has been held, the students at Pleasant Hill Elementary have been able to fund 376 cleft lip and palate operations for Smile Train.

The Mini Marathon does several things. It gets kids more physically fit through the running and walking and teaches students about helping others and community service. It gives kids the opportunity that I had 41 years ago — to have their cleft lip and palate repaired and live a productive life.

If you would like to get your school involved with Smile Train, please contact us at students@smiletrain.org .

A Very Special Thank You

Students of St. Mark Catholic School video conferenced Smile Train patients who are in one of our speech therapy cleft choirs

Seattle, WA — On April 18th, the 3rd and 5th grade students at St. Mark Catholic School gathered together for a very special event — they had a live Skype conference with former Smile Train patients in Mexico City!

The students at St. Mark Catholic School are no strangers to giving back. In 2011, led by teacher Mrs. Kimm Conroy, they held a community wide fundraiser that raised enough money to fund nine cleft surgeries. One of the events was a school-wide contest called Spare Your Change for Smile Train where each grade level was challenged to raise the most money.

This year’s 3rd grade class is also collecting funds for Smile Train. Their donations will be restricted to the speech therapy program in Mexico City that they Skyped with, Hablarte y Integrarte.

The video connection gave the students the opportunity to see the impact of their donation firsthand. After students in Seattle and Mexico introduced themselves to one another, the cleft choir at Hablarte y Integrarte performed a song for the group! As Monica Dominguez, Smile Train Country Manager in Mexico said, “The cleft choir in Hablarte e Integrate in Mexico City, sang with passion and gratitude in a fun Skype call.”

Would you like to see the impact of your donations first hand via video chat? Let us know! We would be happy to arrange a connection with one of our partners.

Thank you to the students, faculty and staff of St. Mark’s for their support and an extra thanks to Don Trujillo for setting up the AV equipment!

Elijah’s New Life

Former Smile Train patient Elijah years after free cleft lip surgery

Detroit, MichiganAs many babies with unrepaired clefts in developing countries are abandoned, our partner hospitals work closely with orphanages. After cleft surgery, these children are later adopted into loving families. Sometimes, even families in the USA like the Medfords who recently sent us this message.

We chose adoption to add to our family and 4 ½ years after beginning this amazing journey, we brought home our sweet son, Elijah James!

We entered the China program intending to adopt a “healthy” child but after my husband desired to adopt a special needs child, we switched over to the Waiting Child program and were chosen to be the parents to Elijah, a child born with a cleft lip. We brought him home in December of 2011 with no information prior to his time with us other than that his lip had been repaired when he was six-months old.

A client of my husband’s had a friend whose daughter works for Smile Train and she put us in contact with her. To our amazement, a Smile Train doctor was the one who operated on our son. She was able to [find his medical record] and shared with us the pre- and post-surgery pictures, which are precious and allow us to have some information to share with Elijah as he gets older. Smile Train changed the trajectory of our son’s life and we’re forever grateful to them and the masterful hands of Dr. Liu Jiebiao…He’s a very loved and happy child!

He has brought our family such joy and has the most precious smile, thanks to you!

We are forever grateful,

The Medford family
Jody, Daniella, Lexie, Emily & Elijah

4th Annual Smile Train Softball Tournament a Great Success

St. Louis, Mo — Last August, teams from around St. Louis gathered at McNair Park, 20 miles outside of St. Louis, for blue skies, fun times, friendly competition, and to play their hearts out to give children in another part of the world new smiles.

Since 2008, Valari Quarando has organized the Annual Smile Train Charity Softball Tournament, and every year the event gains in popularity. A dedicated Smile Train supporter, Valari is no stranger to clefts: she was born with a cleft lip in 1979, “I was lucky enough to be born in a country where this birth defect can be fixed quite easily, so I wanted to help the children who aren’t as lucky.”

The last three tournaments raised more than $3,000 and the hopes were high to do even better this year. With an amazing turn out and the generosity of participants, volunteers, and local businesses, over $1,700 was raised that will go directly to Smile Train to provide free surgery and follow up care to desperate children.

My brother John Quarando and brother-in-law Brett Willbrand have organized a team to play in the tournament every year since it began. This year their team, Cobra Kai, won the tournament for the first time! I have never seen a team more excited to win. Not only do we get to raise money for new smiles for the little kids of Smile Train, but we get to put smiles on all of the players’ faces as well. I can’t wait till next year!

Thanks to Valari, the players, volunteers, sponsors, and everyone involved in the tournament for giving the kids in our programs something to smile about! Be sure to check out some of the photos from the event.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

4th Annual Denver Improv for Smile Train

Last week 7 improv comedy troupes gathered for five amazing shows in support of Smile Train. We are pleased to have the event’s organizer, Heather Clisby, as our first Smile Train Guest Blogger.

Denver, CO – If you’ve ever watched TV’s ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ or had an odd cousin that talked to himself, then you’re familiar with the spontaneous insanity of comedy improv, the fine (sometimes crude) art of Make Stuff Up and Hope It’ll Be Funny. And I speak for all comedy improv performers when I say: Honest to god, we can’t help it. Why? Because it feels like flying, minus TSA and barf bags.

The Denver WigsA while back, I approached my Denver-based comedy troupe, Rodents of Unusual Size, and said simply, “Let’s do a benefit show for Smile Train. We make people laugh here in Denver. Why not make them smile in other countries?” Since the first rule of improv is to say “Yes, and…” to everything, they had no choice in the matter. And just like that, an annual tradition was born.

What began as a singular effort in 2008 has grown into 7 troupes, performing 5 shows over 4 days. My ‘comedy husband’, Steve Loukas,  and I organized 50 performers, sound/light technicians and volunteers to translate comedy hijinks into cold, hard cash for the noble Smile Train mission. All shows are held at the wonderful Avenue Theater in downtown Denver, our cozy home base.

I was born with a facial deformity (not a cleft palate, a hemangioma) and well understand the sheer cruelty and physical discomfort that such a condition can render. Lucky for me, I was born in the United States to concerned parents and knowledgeable doctors who worked hard to correct my situation. But in remote villages in a developing nation, how is a parent to know about such a surgery? Or even think about raising the necessary funds for the procedure? Not all kids are as fortunate as I was but certainly, all are deserving of a second chance.

And this is what I explain at the beginning of every show: “So many problems in the world I cannot fix – world hunger, AIDS, war veterans – most too big to get my head around. But this! This is something I can fix. This life changing surgery costs $250 – boom. Done.”

When I tell people that, I see their eyes light up. Finally, a solution that costs so little and does so much good!

We kicked off Wednesday night (August 17) featuring the Rodents of Unusual Size and Intentionally Left Blank for some family-friendly entertainment. A line of empty Mason jars lined the front edge of the stage, each with a performer’s name taped to the front – the now infamous, “Jars of Pains.” (Later in the fall, I’ll fill them with homemade apple sauce or spaghetti sauce and give one to each performer.)

Improv Comedians Putting It On the Line to Provide Cleft SurgeryThe host encouraged the audience to put money in the jar of their favorite – or least favorite – comedian. The three performers with the most money in their jar play in the dreaded game of Mousetraps where the stage is covered in mousetraps and the players are blindfolded and spun for maximum disorientation. The bold remove their shoes; the meek wear socks even on their hands. Cringe-worthy? Yes. Hilarious? Absolutely. Lots of squealing goes on, always a good sign.

Inevitably, somebody tells somebody they are on fire and “You need to stop, drop, and roll!” In improv, there are no refusals, a player must say “Yes!” to everything so down they go onto the mousetraps. Yeeeow!

These jars are big money makers for us. I saw one woman put $40 in another jar just to make sure her daughter, Sarah, didn’t have to play this game. (Alas, Sarah had to play anyway and miraculously, survived.)

Thursday’s show was also family friendly — if your family is made up entirely of super raunchy comedians. Players from several local troupes joined to form ‘Gay v. Str8’ which was exactly what it sounds like. About 20 performers – half gay, half not – competed before judges to determine who had the most comic chops.

The last half of the show was done in long-form improv, where a theme is pre-decided. Enter, “The Housewives of Colfax,” Colfax being a street famous in Denver for being well stocked with seedy, gritty characters. Performers create scenarios using these characters and rotate in and out, creating story lines and resolutions. Hard to do and even harder when you have to be funny.

A Talking Crab for Smile TrainFriday night’s show featured Monkey’s Uncle and All of the Above, which produced many a gut-busting moment. It was their decision to turn the “Jars of Pain” into the “Jars of Pleasure” – encouraging people to donate to see their favorite performer in the popular rendition of “Historic Dance-O-Rama.” It’s hard to dance as the Berlin Wall, I must say.

The first show on Saturday night featured Out of the Basement, which included some of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. After this show ended, one of the performers, Mark, whom I had only met at the Thursday night show, approached me with a giant wad of cash. “Here, Heather,” he said as he pressed it into my hand, “I gathered this from my family. It’s $175.” I hugged him, thanked him and hurried backstage, to prepare for the next show.

Moments later, I was preparing for the 8 p.m. show and suddenly, the enormity of his gesture hit me hard. I burst into tears, a bizarre delayed reaction that had my headliner troupe concerned. All that running around, planning, emailing, phone calling – and his incredible generosity brought the point of it all back in resounding clarity.

The closing show, starring those high-energy nutjobs, The Denver Wigs, was a blazing success. The house was full and never quiet. The Wigs are run like a very tight ship, captained by the founder and director, Steve Loukas. Steve’s attention to detail and his leadership inspire his troupe.

Best of all? They hand out pies. Not kidding. Blueberry, apple and pecan. Nearly every audience member gets one. (Note for next year: Don’t put the pie table in front of the video screen making it look like the Smile Train kids are trying to eat the pies. D-oh!) Plus, there’s a raffle drawing. Folks win t-shirts, posters, theater tickets and gift cards. And did I mention there are pies?

We are still counting the money from the show and donations are still coming in to our Smile Train page but thus far, we’ve raked in about $2,300 and hopefully it will reach $2500.  Considering the state of the economy and that 99.9% of all comedians are poor, this is a hard-won victory for us. And for the kids. See you in 2012!

4th Annual Smile Train Triathlon

Smile Train Triathlon
Wake Forest, NC – Registration is well under way for the 4th Annual Smile Train Tri. This amazing event was started in 2008 by triathlete and race director Rebecca Warriner.

The “Miles For Smiles” triathlon is  a sprint triathlon: participants compete in a 250 meter swim, 12 mile bike, and 3.1 mile run throughout Wake Forest. With the generous support of BASF and other local sponsors, 100% of all of the race fees go directly to Smile Train. Adding in donations that many of the competitors make and collect through the Tri-and-Fundraise program, the Smile Train Tri has already accounted for over $83,000 in donations to provide free cleft lip and plate surgeries.

The race may be hard, but it’s not as hard as every day is for these parents and children who need our help.”
Rebecca Warriner

With a new course, Rebecca and her team of volunteers have set the bar higher than ever for 2011, hoping to collect $17,500 in registration fees and $15,000 in seperate donations to bring their total to a whopping $115,500. That would be more than 460 cleft surgeries in 4 years!! In honor of this wonderful milestone, Nestle’s 100 Grand has donated their candy bars for the participants, volunteers, and spectators.

A very special thank you to Rebecca, and all of the sponsors, participants, and volunteers for helping us create so many smiles.

Sign up for the Smile Train Triathlon today!

The 4th Annual Smile Train Triathlon was an outstanding success!! Last weekend, over 400 competitors and hundreds of volunteers and spectators converged on Wake Forest, NC and raised more than $30,000 for Smile Train.

We’d like to extend our deepest thanks to everyone involved in the Smile Train Triathlon. Be sure to check out the slideshow below and share your stories from the event in the comments section.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.