Alliance Highlights 2020/2021

Alliance Highlights 2020/2021

Hello Friends,

There are few things more heartbreaking than a child needlessly suffering. 

However, few things are more empowering than knowing that one small act you can do right now will end that suffering and change the course of a life forever. 

Children are being born with cleft lip and palate conditions every day. Cases are backing up as Alliance for Smiles is unable to conduct international missions to provide surgeries due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

With your help, we can continue our important and life-changing work, providing innovative programs we can deliver safely and remotely during these times. Please consider making a donation today to support this groundbreaking and crucial work.

AfS has faced many challenges over the last 16 years, but this pandemic is far tougher than any before. While other organizations have shut down completely, thanks to generous supporters and a forward-thinking crew of staff and volunteers, we have continued to overcome obstacles and serve our partners.  

We’re now delivering programs remotely, training medical providers around the world who care for cleft patients through our Virtual Education Initiative, while remaining ready to resume missions and provide surgeries again as soon as it’s safe. We’re keeping our team lean and taking this challenge as an opportunity to help children with cleft and the teams who care for them in new ways.

The support of our community made this groundbreaking initiative possible; please donate to Alliance for Smiles today to allow us to continue this life-changing work. 

The reasons we must continue with our important mission are many, and we are proving every day that even in difficult and uncertain times we can change lives.

  • — Our new Virtual Education Initiative provides transformative training and support for our partners. Over the past six months, we have successfully designed and provided training programs for medical teams who support children with cleft in Bangladesh, Honduras, and Guatemala. We are currently setting up trainings for our partners in the Republic of Congo, as we adapt materials and presentations to the languages of other interested sites, such as Egypt, Myanmar, and Nigeria. We are also developing consultation programs to remotely support medical teams on complex cleft cases in the disciplines of plastic surgery and anesthesiology.
  • — Many selfless and dedicated volunteers have stepped up to create and deliver comprehensive educational programs to our partners, particularly Rosemary Welde, Nan Madden, Erin Murphy and other members of the AfS Nursing Committee.
  • — We are building a team of translators to be able to translate materials, and communicate with and train partner teams, as we continue adding more locations and partners to our programs.
  • — This initiative is helping us to develop better foundations of knowledge and grow stronger relationships with our international partners, so that when surgical missions resume, we will have already established a fantastic and collaborative rapport.
  • — We stand ready to resume our missions the moment we can confirm it’s safe and responsible to our patients, their families, and our volunteers to do so.
  • — We have a dedicated, loyal staff working alongside our gracious volunteers to keep the AfS mission alive and thriving, even amidst the many obstacles of this year and this pandemic.

I want to personally thank each and every one of you for helping us throughout this year. Because of you, our gala raised more than any in the past. Because of you, we have continued to achieve our mission in precarious and unprecedented circumstances.  And because of you, and your support during this giving season, we will be able to continue doing so, we will outlast this pandemic, and we will return to our in-country work of changing children’s lives, stronger and more knowledgeable than ever before.

There are so many children with cleft who are waiting for us and that number is ever-growing as the pandemic continues to prevent our travel. They are waiting for the surgery and support that will change their lives forever, and it’s in your hands to help us provide it. Please make an end-of-year donation to support Alliance for Smiles and this transformative work.

We wish you a wonderful holiday season and thank you for changing lives with us.

With huge thanks,

Dr. Karl Wustrack
Chairman of the Board

COVID-19 Impact Update

We have all been impacted by COVID-19. Even if you are fortunate enough to not have contracted it yourself or to know or – worse yet, lost –  someone who has, you have likely experienced changes to your day to day life because of it. 

Alliance for Smiles has been impacted in many ways. The most obvious is by the temporary hold on international medical missions and the corresponding launch of our Virtual Education Initiative, but we have also had to furlough staff, reduce office expenses, and adapt our programs and operations to these strange times to keep things running, continue achieving our mission and supporting children impacted by clef from afar. We are keeping everything as lean as possible, while remaining as effective as ever. 

Fundraising is particularly challenging at this time. Many have lost their jobs or are experiencing financial insecurity due to the pandemic. Those who can still give have to choose between COVID relief efforts, social justice issues, political campaign appeals, and many worthwhile and urgent causes.

Like you, we are not certain when these days will be behind us and when exactly we will be able to perform our next life-changing surgery on a child with cleft, but what we do know is that we will continue safeguarding your generous donations and keep ourselves ready to undertake our next missions, while still delivering services to our medical partners around the world. 

We know that there are many important causes and great organizations, and we thank you for continuing to keep AfS in mind during your end of year giving.

Virtual Education Initiative

One of the qualities that has always made Alliance for Smiles unique is our commitment to sustainability by providing the long-term, multi-dimensional care that cleft patients require, and by training local medical professionals to deliver this care after we have left the country. Though it is not safe to perform in-person medical missions during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been able to continue providing services, and stay true to our mission, by offering virtual and on-line training through our newly developed Virtual Education Initiative (VEI).

When we realized that it would not be possible to resume standard missions in the near future, we immediately reached out to our international partners to gauge their interest in virtual education, and the vast majority responded positively. We then recruited AfS expert leads in relevant disciplines and conducted needs assessments among the hospitals to determine what would benefit them most. Training in nursing care came up right away as both an area in high demand from our partners and one that would work well within this format. Our partner hospitals in Bangladesh, Guatemala, and Honduras were immediately interested. Therefore we began the process of translating presentations into the appropriate languages and recruiting teachers who were fluent.

Nursing Seminars on Zoom

On September 14, we presented our first VEI nursing class to our partners at Shaheed Monsur Ali Medical College in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Then, on September 25, we presented a joint class to nurses at Hilario Galindo Hospital in Retalhuleu, Guatemala, and Gabriela Alvarado Hospital in Danlí, Honduras. From the feedback and evaluations received, both presentations were incredibly successful, and we are already in talks to conduct further seminars with these locations, and to expand the program to additional locations.

Another hospital that has shown great interest in this program is Central University Hospital of Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo. In addition to offering nursing seminars at this location, we are currently developing a consultation program where AfS surgeons and anesthesiologists can consult with local medical teams on complex cases. One of the difficulties we encountered at the start of this program was a lack of sufficiently strong internet in Congo, which is required to collaborate effectively. To overcome this obstacle, we purchased equipment to provide reliable WiFi at the hospital. The cost was relatively insignificant by our standards but made a world of difference to their team!

As we continue to develop the VEI, we have discovered an unexpected bonus: we see great potential in continuing this program even after international travel resumes. It will not only help to build a strong foundation of knowledge before an in-person medical mission begins, but it will also help establish deeper trust and connection between our teams – leading to a more efficient and effective mission once we are on the ground.

We are very excited to continue to develop this groundbreaking program!

“Pets”-tember & the AfS Pet Project

In the midst of wildfires, hurricanes, and the pandemic, a pushy black and white cat sparked a fantastic and heartwarming idea that helped take our minds off the news. One of Alliance for Smiles’ co-founders was inspired by her beloved cat to create a fun, light-hearted campaign to bring more smiles to the AfS community and to children around the world.

The cat’s name is Smudge thanks to the mark on his nose. His well-trained human companion’s name is Anita Stangl. Smudge has made a point to not only attend the many meetings Anita dials into from her computer, but to be front and center in the middle of the screen for most.

Smudge with his friend Roxie

It became a joke that Smudge should pay dues to some of the clubs Anita is a part of and become an official member, since his attendance was so impressively consistent. That prompted Anita to think – could Smudge and pets like him, who are bringing smiles to their families and everyone who sees them popping up in virtual meetings, could they also help raise awareness and funds to help children impacted by cleft?

She presented the idea to the some staff and board members at  AfS. We’d never heard of anything like it and had no idea how to configure the website to host it, but the idea was so fun and fantastic that it was worth a try. Within weeks, the AfS: Pet Project was ready to launch. Throughout the month of “Pets”-tember, which is more commonly known as September, humans could enter a photo of their pet(s) they thought was most likely to bring smiles to people’s faces along with making a donation to the organization. Then, anyone and everyone could come to the website and vote for up to three pets each day throughout the entire month.

We weren’t sure we’d get many entries, nor that many people would come by the website to vote. We needn’t have worried about either. Around 40 pet photos were shared, and the winning pet alone received over 3,000 votes! The runner-up Harley, also almost hit the 3,000 vote mark, and there were three adorable honorable mentions and awards for all the pets! For example, the “least traditional pet” awards went to Spike, the African pygmy hedgehog, and Teddy, the teddy bear.

Participants met online to celebrate the winners and all the pets for the immense joy they bring to the world. We are deeply grateful that they and their human companions stepped up to help children in need this Pets-tember!

AfS Mascot of Smiles: Charlie

It all began on a fateful day around two years ago at the Dog Cafe in Los Angeles, when a lovely couple encountered a sweet, mellow, and very happy dog. It was Charlie’s smile and wonderful demeanor that first caught their attention. They signed up to foster him but quickly became his “forever home” and family.

Both of Charlie’s humans are front line workers who care for others everyday, and while Charlie proved to be skilled at alleviating stress and filling their home with joy, it became apparent that he was also capable of so much more. He proved a quick and focused learner in obedience class and passed the Canine Good Citizen test with ease. He then became an official pet therapy dog for the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, where he brings smiles and cuddles to its pediatric patients.

Charlie radiates a contagious kind of joy through his days. Diana Phan and her husband, who entered Charlie’s photo into the AfS Pet Project, say of him, “Charlie makes us smile in so many ways. The pure joy on his face when we come home, when he sees food, when he goes out for walks, when he is at the beach, or even when we are just sitting around has made us smile and enjoy each moment. Each day is full of things to be joyful about, especially the simple things.”

Diana learned about AfS years ago, when she volunteered on a mission in Weining, China.

In Diana’s words:  “It was such an incredible experience. I have been on other missions as well, but AfS made this trip so special and memorable for me. The highlight of my trip was the people I met – truly selfless, loving, and encouraging personalities who have inspired me ever since. I support AfS’s cause and mission and am excited to spread the word as best I can.  The Pet Project was an amazing opportunity to do just that with people in my social circle.”

We’re so grateful that Diana volunteered with AfS to help bring smiles to the faces of children with cleft, and that Charlie helped do the same by getting over 3,000 votes! Diana and her husband suspect that it was his adorable smile in that winning photo, as he is posing next to a Starbucks “Puppucino” that he looks very excited about. Well, Charlie’s smile and zest for joy has us all grinning too.

“He has taught us how to slow down and enjoy our surroundings,” the couple said. “He enjoys walks so much that we have to take him out multiple times a day, and because of that we’ve learned so much about our neighborhood and neighbors. He has taught us how to appreciate the nature and people around us. Most importantly, he reminds us daily about how much smiles can impact lives.”

We think that makes him a pretty perfect Mascot of Smiles. If you’re as inspired as we are by Charlie and want to keep up with him, you can follow him on Instagram here: @charlie_thegoodboi

2020 Night of Smiles: A Gala Like No Other

The 2020 Night of Smiles gala was a first for us. In light of the growing health and safety measures due to COVID-19, we determined that it was both necessary and responsible to shift the in-person annual fundraising gala, Night of Smiles, which was scheduled for May 2nd to an online gala instead. 

We still wanted to celebrate the powerful impact that our work and volunteers have on the lives of children with cleft around the world and raise the much needed funds to continue that work. We had no idea if people would be interested in joining us via Zoom or if we would be able to raise any funds with this format, but our community and mission are our priority, so we decided to give it a try.

2020 AfS Virtual Gala

What followed blew all of our expectations away! We quickly shifted our annual auction to a fully online format, launched the Fund a Smile campaign, and planned an hour long virtual gala program to honor and celebrate our honorees, patients, and missions. The online event was fun & engaging, which was much needed at a time when we were still adjusting to some of the isolation that COVID-19 would thrust upon us. Over 100 people attended, some from Nigeria where it was the middle of the night, and we surpassed our fundraising goal for the event, thanks to our incredibly generous and supportive community! 

We were also able to honor these four individuals, who have been instrumental in making our life-changing mission possible, with the following awards:

John Goings — Lifetime Achievement Award
Mary Liu — Volunteer of the Year
Deinde Shoga — Distinguished Service Award
Tina Fischlin — John Uth Memorial Award for Significant Financial Support

Check out personal thank you videos from our award winners here!

Thank you to everyone who attended, donated, supported the Fund a Smile campaign, bid on or donated auction items, and those who shared their stories and talents with us during our first-ever online event. 

The 2020 Night of Smiles online gala surpassed our every expectation and showed us how a wonderful and compassionate group of people can come together to overcome any obstacle life may throw their way, and still have a great time – and change a lot of lives – while doing it!

We can’t wait to see you on May 1, 2021 for the next one!

The Next Generation of World-Changers

If you are ever in need of a dose of inspiration, just look to the next generation of creative and caring teenagers who are stepping up to make a difference. Here are three stories of teens who did just that for Alliance for Smiles this year. 

Meet Camille Alvarez, an eighth grader from Sacramento, California. All eighth graders participate in the Arrupe Project, a community service initiative meant to inspire and empower students to give back to their school and community.

“For our eighth grade project, we were asked to fundraise for a nonprofit organization of our choice, and I picked [AfS], because it stands for a cause close to my heart. I had a cleft palate when I was a baby,” said Camille, who had the operation to correct her cleft palate at just one year old. 

Knowing what a life-changing gift it was for her, she decided to sell two different things and give the proceeds to Alliance for Smiles. She sold homemade lumpia at her school, and also made “Soap for Smiles”, raising $800 for Alliance for Smiles’ crucial mission. She wants to be a doctor when she grows up, and we hope she will put her skills to use as a doctor on a mission with AfS one day!  Read more about Camille here!

Now, meet the Interact Club of George Washington High School, who despite the shortened school year, participated in many volunteer service projects, cleaned beaches, worked at food pantries, and conducted bake sales to raise funds to raise funds for AfS! The club is made up of 28 students, and together they raised $850 for Alliance for Smiles, which was matched by a generous and supportive donor.

And finally, let’s go to Canada to meet Alyssa Sanden of Alberta, Canada, another impressive teen. She is the creator of the Smile Because You Can campaign. The idea behind the campaign is that for everyone who shares photos of themselves smiling to the campaign, a sponsor donates fifty cents to Alliance for Smiles. 

Alyssa & her Grandma

She got creative in thinking about who might sponsor such a campaign, and sent about fifty letters to companies that sold toothpaste, toothbrushes, anything to do with teeth. She reached out to her own dentist and he loved the idea, becoming the official sponsor of the project. She then went about publicizing it to local newspapers and magazines – many of which ran stories on her, took out advertisement space to promote it, and put up announcements. More than a thousand people posted photos of themselves, sometimes with friends or family, smiling. She successfully raised $800 for AfS!

Alyssa was inspired to do this amazing project because of her role model, who also happens to be her grandmother, Linda Rae. Linda went on several Alliance for Smiles missions as an OR Nurse and sometimes Lead Nurse, and according to Alyssa, “she loved the impact she was making.” Alyssa said in her promotional poster, “I would like to continue her legacy. I can’t go on a mission, as I am 13, but I can assist Alliance for Smiles. You can too!” Read more about Alyssa here!

Ways You Can Help

There are more ways than ever to support Alliance for Smiles:

  • — We’re very excited to announce that thanks to some very generous donors, we will be matching funds in the days leading up to Giving Tuesday, which is on December 1st this year!
  • — Check to see if your employer will match employee donations.
  • — Did you know that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act encourages charitable giving in 2020?** This includes a $300 above-the-line deduction and waiving of the 60% of AGI limit on deductions, making cash contributions to qualified charities fully deductible up to 100% of the donor’s adjusted gross income.  The CARES Act also suspends required minimum distributions (RMDs) from most qualified retirement plans, including IRAs. **Please ask your tax professional how the CARES Act may impact your charitable giving plans.
  • — Consider including Alliance for Smiles in estate planning.
  • — Some products, services, even rideshare apps, have programs where a percentage of your total expense is donated to a nonprofit or where your total is rounded up to the nearest dollar with the change being donated to a nonprofit of your choice. Look for Alliance for Smiles as an option.