About Alliance for Smiles

Our History

Founders (L to R): Jim Deitz, Anita Stangl, James Patrick, John Goings & John Uth (not pictured: Burt Berry)

In October of 2004 six members of the Rotary Club of San Francisco founded Alliance for Smiles (AfS). Each of them had been involved with other cleft lip and palate organizations and collectively they wanted to create two types of programs: to send medical teams to sites to perform corrective surgery, and to create treatment centers where the protocol of cleft treatment in the United States could be replicated.

With these two dreams as the goal, Alliance for Smiles recruited Dr. Karin Vargervik, Director of the Cleft Lip and Palate Treatment Center at the UCSF Medical Center, to head the Treatment Center Program.

Why China was chosen as the first country to be approached with this concept

There was a tremendous need for treatment as one in 350 children were born annually with the cleft anomaly

AfS members had pre-existing relationships with the China Population Welfare Foundation and the State Family Planning Commission to facilitate the logistics. Additionally, there was an infra-structure that could be used to set up treatment centers.

There was also an intense interest by the Chinese to learn about treatment centers and establish them at sites.

From just two missions to China in 2005, Alliance for Smiles has grown quickly. As of August 2017, we have completed missions all over the world.

Leadership

Board of Directors

Karl Wustrack, MD

Karl Wustrack, MD

Chairman of the Board

I have been serving on cleft missions for 35 years now. My passion and dedication to this cause started after...

Barbara Fisher

Barbara Fisher

VP, Projects outside of China

Barbara Fisher has been involved in the work of Alliance for Smiles since its first mission ten years ago. From...

Karen Vargevick, DDS

Karen Vargevick, DDS

VP of Treatment Centers

After receiving my dental and orthodontic education in Norway where I was born, I received a Fulbright scholarship in Boston...

Rosemary Welde, RN

Rosemary Welde, RN

Chair, Medical Services

I was born in Philadelphia and went to nursing school there. I have lived in California since 1980. I have...

John Goings

John Goings

Treasurer

I was born in Oklahoma and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. After five years in the Air...

Anita Stangl

Anita Stangl

Secretary

I became involved with cleft lip and palate repair programs in 1994 when I volunteered for a medical mission to...

Cecile Chiquette

Cecile Chiquette

Director

Cecile is Public Fiduciary and has been a board member at AfS for three years. Previously she was President of...

Chih-Chen Fang, MD

Chih-Chen Fang, MD

Chief of Anesthesiology

I was born in Taiwan and emigrated to Canada when I was 17 years old. I went to medical school...

Benjamin Lam

Benjamin Lam

Director

For me, AfS has been a breath of very fresh air since I joined the board more than 10 years...

Jim Patrick

Jim Patrick

Director

Jim Patrick is a third generation owner of Patrick & Co. founded by his grandfather in 1873. Jim found his calling to help others when...

Carl R. Vahl

Carl R. Vahl

Director

I began my international service work in 2005 by participating in Rotary National Immunization Day missions, immunizing children against polio...

About Us

International Directors

Barbara Fisher

Barbara Fisher

VP, Projects outside of China

Barbara Fisher has been involved in the work of Alliance for Smiles since its first mission ten years ago. From...

Medical Directors

Chih-Chen Fang, MD

Chih-Chen Fang, MD

Chief of Anesthesiology

I was born in Taiwan and emigrated to Canada when I was 17 years old. I went to medical school...

Karen Vargevick, DDS

Karen Vargevick, DDS

VP of Treatment Centers

After receiving my dental and orthodontic education in Norway where I was born, I received a Fulbright scholarship in Boston...

Karl Wustrack, MD

Karl Wustrack, MD

Chairman of the Board

I have been serving on cleft missions for 35 years now. My passion and dedication to this cause started after...

Rosemary Welde, RN

Rosemary Welde, RN

Chair, Medical Services

I was born in Philadelphia and went to nursing school there. I have lived in California since 1980. I have...

Mission Directors

Anita Stangl

Anita Stangl

Secretary

I became involved with cleft lip and palate repair programs in 1994 when I volunteered for a medical mission to...

Barbara Fisher

Barbara Fisher

VP, Projects outside of China

Barbara Fisher has been involved in the work of Alliance for Smiles since its first mission ten years ago. From...

Quality Assurance Committee

In-House Staff

Paul Vazquez

Paul Vazquez

Director of Operations

I was born and raised in San Diego, CA and lived there until I moved to San Francisco in 1997....

Yulla-May Nicolas

Yulla-May Nicolas

Office Manager

I was born and raised in Paris and moved to San Francisco in 2008, where I studied Marketing and then...

Q & A

Frequently Asked Questions

A.

Cleft lips and palates are anomalies that occur during the early weeks of embryonic development. Predisposition is the main cause, and studies indicate that other contributing factors might include folic acid or vitamin B deficiency, the use of anti-seizure medications, exposure to chemicals and infectious disease in the mother during pregnancy. Certain environmental agents have also been cited as disruptive to the normal development of a fetus.

A.

Traditional international efforts to repair cleft lips and palates have consisted of small teams that perform surgical procedures to correct defects. However, the initial surgery only addresses one part of the problem. Cleft patients require ongoing treatment in the disciplines of dentistry, orthodontia, speech therapy, and sometimes psychological counseling. Time and funding constraints typically make it impossible to address those needs on our short two week trips.

Even if information, expertise, and treatment were available, it would pose an impossible financial burden to the families of our target population, whose budgets are already strained by their basic daily needs for food and shelter.

Our multi-pronged approach and long-range model distinguish us from traditional international surgical teams in several ways:

  • To respond to the immediate need, we conduct two week surgical missions.
  • We provide advanced training for health care providers who are dedicated to the treatment of underserved cleft lip and palate patients.
  • We are establishing treatment centers where patients can receive follow-up and ongoing care, using the same treatment protocols used in the United States. Eventually, the centers will be owned and operated by the communities that they serve.

A.

For the courageous families in under-served countries who decide to seek medical assistance on their own, very little is available that is financially feasible. With the average cost of surgery being half of what a typical rural family earns in a year, it is clear why they feel overwhelmed and without options.

Our surgeries which transform lives cost $1,000 per child.

A.

Yes, since Alliance for Smiles is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization, all donations are tax deductible. AfS will supply you with a tax receipt for your donation.

A.

We have a very efficient business model which means that only .04 cents of every dollar you donate goes to our overhead expenses. This means that .96 cents of every dollar goes directly to our missions around the world.

A.

Most of our funding comes from individuals and from Rotary Clubs; we also receive many donations of equipment, supplies, and in-kind donations. Please see our Partners Page for more information. AfS pays the airfare for all medical volunteers. Non-medical volunteers pay their own way. All volunteers pay a $380 trip participation fee to cover administrative costs.

A.

There are medical volunteer opportunities for Board Certified Plastic Surgeons, Anesthesiologists, Pediatricians, OR Nurses, PACU Nurses, Dentists, Orthodontists, Dental Hygienists, and Speech Pathologists. Please visit our Volunteer Page to learn more.

A.

Mission Directors, Quartermasters, Translators, Photographers, Instrument Sterilizers, Medical Record Keepers, and Patient Ward Coordinators.

Please visit our Volunteer Page to learn more.

Anyone is welcome to apply for a non-medical volunteer opportunity, however if a Rotary club is sponsoring a specific trip, priority will be given to Rotarians from that club. Volunteers must be in good physical health, as the days are long and demanding.

Flexibility is an important quality, as the responsibilities may change during the course of the mission. We also expect the commitment of volunteers to go beyond the mission by raising public awareness and conducting fundraising programs.

Spouses of volunteers may participate, as long as both spouses are volunteering as team members in specific positions.

Sorry, we do not accept minors.

Stay Connected

Subscribe to AfS News!