SmileTrain, My Journey | Teen Ink

SmileTrain, My Journey

February 7, 2016
By Vika_Hope SILVER, Loch Arbour, New Jersey
Vika_Hope SILVER, Loch Arbour, New Jersey
7 articles 3 photos 5 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Nothing is impossible, the word itself says,"I'm possible!"-Audrey Hepburn

 “I don’t know about organ donations for our project,” Alexa spoke shyly, “That seems like a lot to ask of people, and I really don’t think we have the funds for that.”

I cringed slightly, trying not to show my disdain for the idea, I sincerely did not want to hurt the owner of the idea’s feelings,”Yeah,” I spoke gently, “Maybe we should cross organ donations off the list.”  Jack crossed the idea off the blackboard in the church conference room.  Two ideas were left on the dusty board, my Smile Train pitch, and Quentin’s foster home idea.  We were deciding on a charity mission 2015 for the church, as Confirmands, we were in charge. 

“Alright,” Mrs. Alster, our supervisor said, obviously bored with narrowing down ideas, “We have two plans left, so both of you,” she pointed at me and Quentin, “Pick two assistants to help you present your idea, and we’ll have a vote next Sunday, have a nice day!” she smiled wearily.  Jack and Lilly volunteered to help me out, and Quentin asked Chase and Ally to assist him.  There were nine of us, Alexa, Lilly, Ally, Molly, Mia, Me, Jack, Chase, and Quentin. 

So, the next week on Sunday I awoke bright and early, gathering my notes and paper, as well as my flash drive with the little smile on it.  I leaped into the car, shaking off nervous jitters, and the weeks’ anxiety.  Earlier this week I had tried to pin down my group members, but they obviously hadn’t taken their schedules into consideration when offering to assist me in the mission pitch.  Jack was in Florida, and couldn’t even make the presentation, while Lilly had dance recitals and so many lacrosse games, I couldn’t even keep track, so I had to converse and plan with her over text.  Thankfully, she was able to attend the meeting on Sunday.  On the way to the Church, I worried that Quentin had prepared a larger poster, and an even longer power point.  He, like myself, was always a bit over prepared for events.  But that isn’t a horrible habit to have.  I flipped through my bubble gum pink index cards, and read them over.  I saw Lilly at the Church door, as we pulled into the rainy parking lot.  The raindrops felt more like pebbles today.  I pulled my parka hood over my soaked hair.  My mother and father waved at me, and I quickly threw my hand up in a brief moment of acknowledgement, and dashed through the muddy puddles.

I exhaled slowly, catching my breath, as warmth enveloped around me.  I tossed my parka on the coat rack, then I marched upstairs into the conference room.  I was a little late, but a few others were too.  My eyes scanned the room for Quentin, and….I found him!  Though, he had no poster or flash drive, I shoved my PowerPoint in my pocket, feeling a little self-conscious, maybe I went overboard.  Quentin started his presentation, I found something very strange.  None of the other presenters in his group were speaking, and I had spent hours trying to equally distribute the information between me and Olivia.

I decoded his facial expression, which seemed tense and nervous.  Two feelings gnawed at me, one of sympathy and the other of confidence.  I knew I had this presentation in the bag.  His words were well put, but his plan lacked passion and determination.  I hopped on the platform with a skip in my step and a grin on my face.  It was my group’s turn.  I cleared my throat and handed Lilly her index cards.  She hung the poster on the rough beige bulletin board hanging next to the chalkboard.  I chuckled, remembering when I scrolled through pictures of kids with cleft palates for half an hour, and finally deciding on the cutest kids that really pulled at your “heart- strings”.  I stepped toward the podium, Lilly at my side.  I began.  “Every year,” I smiled,” Every year more than 170,000 children in the world are born with cleft lips or palates.  Most can’t afford surgery.”

Lilly moved forward, “Cleft lips and palates form in the womb, when one’s lip/palate doesn’t form and fuse correctly.”  She explained an abundance of medical facts about the condition.

I spoke,”250 dollars is all it takes to conduct a cleft lip/palate surgery.  Imagine not being able to eat, speak, or swallow properly.”  I paused and, surveyed the room, collecting their reactions,” So many suffer each year from this condition, they are ostracized, denied jobs or education because of their appearance, and speaking voice.  In Uganda, every newborn with a cleft palate is named “Ajok” which means cursed by god, and many are killed soon after birth.”  I noticed tears brimming  in everyone’s eyes, I finished strong, “A smile can save a life.”
We voted, and Mrs. Alster was reading the votes aloud. “Five for Smile Train, three for the Foster home plan, one vote left.”  I held my breath in excitement,” Smile Train is the winner!” Mrs. Alster exclaimed.  My muscles relaxed, I was content, floating on a cloud of joy, all my hard work had paid off, Mrs. Alster came over and congratulated me and Lilly, and I shook hands with my adversary.  Quentin smiled humbly, it was nice that he was making an effort to be a good sport.  Mrs. Alster asked us all to quiet down, and she grinned, “Previously, you had all chosen sides, picking one project or another, but now that we have picked, you are all working together on one project,”  she paused to take a breath, “I hope that there are no hard feelings about whose ideas were picked.” “Plan your budget and sale dates together, and I will see you all next week.” she turned to me, “Send the plan to my email so I can talk this over with the Church board.”  “We have twenty minutes left, if you are looking for product ideas, I have Oriental Trading magazines, and feel free to look online.” She strolled towards the door, “I will be in my office working on the Church Service Bulletin, plan amongst yourselves.” 
I sauntered around the room still floating on my cloud of joy, passing out catalogs, and I finally plopped down in an electric lime green bean bag, dog earing the pages with product candidates.  “Ugh,” Molly groaned, “Have you guys found anything yet?  Everything in my catalog is Easter themed!”  I tossed a new catalog at an agitated Molly, I couldn’t help laughing at her facial expression.  Ally yawned, and then spoke, obviously tired,”Hey everyone, what about dental floss?” I looked at the other confirmands, whom were trying so hard not to laugh, “No, no, I’m serious, smile=teeth=floss!  Plus dental health is soooo important!”  she seemed a lot more awake now, launching into her idea,” We can put names of people who donated on one of those giant wind up jaws so everyone can see the people who bought floss!”

Ally really was serious, I contemplated her zany idea, but my thoughts were interrupted by a loud belly laugh from Mia,” I’m sorry guys,” she chuckled, “I can’t keep the laughter in, dental floss?  Really?  No offense Ally, but I think everyone already has that, and no one will pay for something that’s free at the dentist office.”

I shrugged, I was glad that I didn’t have to shoot Erin’s idea down, “Mia has a point,” I nodded. 


Ally slumped down in her bean bag, grimacing, and “Fine.” One idea after another passed by, toothbrushes, necklaces, and smile face pins, when Mia commented,”Oh great, that’s wonderful, all those in favor of wacky little Sunday Schoolers impaling people, say “I.”  the sarcasm was simply comedic. I flipped through the catalog, getting bored with the glow in the dark action figures, lawn flamingos, and palm tree balloons.  I grabbed a new magazine and opened it to a random page, “Guys!   Gather around, I found something!” I exclaimed excitedly, “Smiley face stress balls!”

I was beaming, proud of my discovery, “That’s great, people in this church have a lot of stress!”  Chase commented, grinning deviously.
“True, true,” I laughed,” I think this is the perfect product!”
“Yeah!”  Lilly added.
“Sure.” Mia replied.

Later that day, I emailed Mrs. Alster, we had figured out the plan, budgets, and etcetera.  Time zapped by, and soon enough, it was our first day of sales.  Lilly and I were taking charge, and assigning jobs, when Mia interrupted with an idea,” Um, Victoria, I think you and Chase should be the ones hanging smiles on the wall, you two are like,” She paused, contemplating a simile,”human trees.”

Chase and I cracked up, “Sure, Lilly, can you figure out the rest of the jobs?  Chase and I have a ton of smiley faces to hang up already.”  Lilly nodded.  Quentin was one of the “class clowns” of the group, so he strolled around after the church service juggling stress balls to get the congregation's’ attention.  Next, Chase and I began hanging the bright yellow, classic optimists on the wall.  Each smiley face had a donor's name on it, so we had a nice, measurable way, (next to the actual donations) to see the impact we were making.  Sales were busy, we started at 12:00 pm and ended at 3:00 in the afternoon.  Everything was fantastic, and Chase and I were at the point where we had to stand on chairs to hang the papers higher on the wall.  While we were sticking on the final “smileys” of the day, Chase tapped my shoulder and gave the funniest, toothiest grin ever, and I could not stop laughing, I was laughing so hard, I fell off the chair, and on to the carpet, still laughing.  At first, everyone was concerned, but then we were all laughing together, Molly commented, still giggling, “Well, it was a good call to use the chairs from the nursery!”  Molly was right, the sturdy little chairs held us up, but weren’t that dangerous if you fell off.  I responded with a nod, it was all I could muster, the situation was too hilarious. 
“Alright,” Lilly interrupted once we had all calmed down, “let’s pack up for the day.  I can’t wait for the next sale!”  She exclaimed gleefully.  Everyone agreed. 

Sale after sale, our numbers went up and so did our goal, our final goal was decided; 4 surgeries; one thousand dollars.  We spoke to the congregation, and spread the news to our friends.  We sold the stress balls April-May, and raised money for 5 surgeries, one thousand, four hundred sixty eight dollars.  Not only did we surpass our goal, but valuable skills were reaped from this experience, for all of us.  Teamwork, time management, marketing, good sportsmanship, compassion, and cooperation.  Giving back is one of the most important actions a person can carry out, because it keeps the world spinning ‘round.  To quote a fortune cookie, “Kindness will surely be repaid, in skill and in heart.”  The skills that you are given back are worth their weight in gold.  And that warm gleeful feeling that is placed inside your soul, is an award in itself.  This is not to say that there were no challenges, or setbacks, like expenses to pay back to the church, many a sale was followed by doubt that we would not reach our goal, but when everything was solved, it was all more than worth it.  My fellow Confirmands have now gone on separate roads than myself, but we still keep in touch, very often.  This experience has rewarded me with those valuable skills, but more importantly, 8, new true blue friends, who I know will be there for me through everything.

The author's comments:

This was the adventure of a life time for me, and I hope you will be inspired to change the world, after reading this piece!  Smile Train is an organization that reaches out to people in Third-world courntries, who have cleft palates.  Each surgery costs $250 as of today, and I trust SmileTrain as a reliable source for charitable acts.  I highly recommend that you join this mission, at This organization has released numerous documentaries which I would absolutely recommend watching.  I will not go into excessive detail about the cleft palate condition, but I will post a link for further reading on the topic-

The names in this piece have been altered for privacy purposes.

Thank you so much for reading, feedback is much appreciated.

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