I recently saw a story about encore careers on the news. According to Encore.org, encore careers combine personal fulfillment, social impact and continued income, enabling people to put their passion to work for the greater good. Today’s organization was founded by someone seeking a change and an opportunity to do something more meaningful.
In May of 2003, Kim Valentini decided to leave the corporate world to make a difference. In an interview in Minnesota Business, Kim said that she had a desire to do something more with her life. She “wanted to be a voice for people who didn’t have one. What we all have in common is a need to belong…when you’re a child born with a disfigurement, you don’t fit in.”
Kim started by committing five hours a week to a charitable cause with a goal of creating one mission site in Mexico and gifting 50 smiles per year. However, those five hours quickly turned to 55 hours per week and Smile Network International was born. Smile Network is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota and provides life-altering reconstructive surgeries to impoverished children and young adults around the world.
Since 2003, Smile Network has developed 24 surgical sites in Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Kenya, Tanzania, Armenia, India, Ecuador, and Uganda. They recently completed their 50th mission and have provided 2,500 new smiles through their free surgeries.
Each of these 2,500 surgeries have changed a life, here are just a few of their stories:
- Eliseo was 72 years old and had never known what it was like to sit at a table and share a meal with family because food would come out his nose. He was born with a cleft palate and abandoned at birth. With tears in his eyes, he begged the Smile Network team to take a risk to operate on him stating that he would rather die than to continue living this way. This simple request was hard to deny.
- Rosealva was a little girl abandoned by her family and left to die under a blanket because of her cleft lip. She was was given a new life after she was found by a local mission team and brought to the Smile Network mission site.
- David’s mother was forced to walk to the end of her village and leave her infant son to die because they thought he would bring a curse to the village causing their crops and livestock to die. Instead, she kept walking to a mission site where David received an operation. She and David returned to village to be reunited with their family.
You can watch a video of one of the Smile Network’s trips to Peru from an episode of On The Road with Jason Davis from KSTP TV to see some more moving stories of lives changed.
How can you help?
- Smile Network’s Champions of Children program allows students and schools to raise money to fund surgeries. You can learn more about his program and read stories of schools who have participated on the organization’s website.
- Their Global Ventures program offers individuals and groups a chance to raise money to hike the Inca Trail or Mount Kilimanjaro to bring about change. At the end of your hike, you participate in the screening process to identify the candidates for surgeries. To learn more about this program and to hear from others who have participated, visit their website.
- You can also volunteer for a surgical mission to help transform lives around the world. You can find the mission schedule and more information on their website.
- The easiest thing to do is to make a donation. It takes just $500 to pay for an entire surgery. A donation of $250 covers the surgical supplies for one child, $100 covers a child’s medication, and $50 covers the care kit given to each child. You can make a donation directly on their website.