One Teen’s Legacy

One Teen’s Legacy


What do you do when you have an issue with your computer? You head for the nearest teenager, don’t you? How about when you need a great way to fundraise these days? Or someone to do public relations, advertising, and promotion? Perhaps you also seek the guidance of a teenager. In this era of social networking, it looks like all teens have excellent instincts for self-promotion. But there is also the exceptional teen who uses those same skills to raise money for a good cause. One such teen is 13-year-old Alyssa Sanden of Alberta, Canada, whose creative Smile Because You Can campaign raised $800 for AfS.  

Any organization would be wise to take their cues from Alyssa. Her design for this campaign should be a go-to model, as there is a lot to be learned from this young teen.

The Genesis:

Here’s a glimpse into the way Alyssa’s young marketing mind works. It started with a simple idea: Send in pictures of yourself smiling, and “for every smile, our sponsor will donate fifty cents to Alliance for Smiles.” She came up with the name, because “I’m really into running. I saw this run called Run for People Who Can’t and thought that’s really cool. Then, I thought of Alliance for Smiles and thought Smile For People Who Can’t. That was the start of the idea.”


Then she set out to publicize her idea. She wrote about fifty letters to companies. Toothpaste companies, toothbrush companies, any company that had anything to do with teeth. In her mind, it was all about smiles. “Focusing on smiling, especially in a selfie, that’s a good way to market something,” she told us. One of her emails was to her own dentist. Alyssa landed his support at Concept Dentistry. “He said, ‘yeah, that is a great idea.’“ He became her sponsor and is the person donating fifty cents to AfS for every smile. He helped spread the word by putting up an announcement in his office to recruit more participants. Then, Alyssa went out to secure printed articles about her project. “I was looking for some kind of publicity, so I contacted newspapers and magazines.” Okatoks Today, a local publication, did a story on her with the headline “Millarville Teen in Search of Smiles.” It reads: “Thirteen-year-old Alyssa Sanden is requesting smiling selfies from the public to raise money for Alliance for Smiles, which offers free surgery to children with cleft lips and palates in developing countries.”

Alyssa took out an ad in her local newspaper. A couple more newspapers picked up her story, and as she says quite humbly, “it was pretty public.” The groundwork she laid with all of her promotion created a groundswell of responses. It was almost like a snowball gaining momentum to create one huge smiling snowman. People sent in photos of themselves or their families – all smiling. More than one thousand of them! The reaction of Paul Vazquez, Director of Operations at AfS, sums up what most non-profit organizations might think: “We’d love to get that kind of reach.”

Alyssa’s Role Model:

Alyssa with her grandma Linda Rae

When we are young, we are really lucky if we connect with a positive role model. Alyssa tells us that her grandmother “has always been my role model for my whole life. She’s been the person I can connect to, the person I can talk to freely. She’s pretty amazing. And I look up to her in every way. I want to be like her. And I love that this (project) can honor her.” 

Alyssa says her grandmother “went on a couple surgery missions when she was learning nursing. She was trying things out. She found that this is the most effective, most fun way to do something. And she loved the impact she was making.” 

Her grandmother, Linda Rae, continued going on missions. Paul Vazquez points out that in addition to being an operating room nurse, she also “worked as the lead nurse, which is one of the hardest jobs on the mission. You’re basically the boss of the entire team. It’s a lot of work.” In her poster, Alyssa tells everyone, “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!”

When asked what she does in her spare time, Alyssa gives us insight into the how and the why of her undertaking this project. “I read a lot. I like coming up with big ideas. I like having a big project,” she tells us glowing with her awarding-winning smile. It is no surprise that the kinds of books Alyssa devours are realistic stories about the developing world and novels with strong social content. Among the twenty or so books she has completed just this summer are I Am Malala and The Bread Winner.

At Alliance for Smiles, we are very grateful for the “Alyssas” of the world. Not only are they our future; so often they are also our teachers.

Alyssa’s project is still active, so you can participate now!  See her poster below for details.


Alyssa created this poster for her campaign inspired by stories & information shared by her grandmother.