Students Establish a Chapter of Operation Smile on Campus

After a year of hard work, three Manhattan College students established a chapter of Operation Smile on the MC campus. Operation Smile is a nonprofit international medical charity that is dedicated to bringing surgeries to countries where kids don’t have access to safe medical care.

Through donations, they bring medical staff, doctors, surgeons, and everyone else needed to the country and perform surgeries that save children’s lives.

Heidi Spetz Co-President, Devin Pratt also Co-President, and Megan Lepore Secretary worked for a year to get the club up and running before it’s official start up in Spring 2016.

A photo from Operation Smiles first meeting last semester. Operation Smile/Courtesy

“In high school, my friend Devin and I heard about it and when we got to college, we weren’t really involved in anything on campus so we wanted to start something and Operation Smile has a great student program with a how-to guide on their website which was easy to follow” Spetz said. “After we started reading about it, we fell in love with the idea and it worked out. You can see the difference you make.”

Spetz and Lepore are attending the International Student Leadership Conference in Rome this upcoming summer.

The International Student Leadership Conference is held for students who are involved with their local Operation Smile Chapters and clubs and are interested in participating on a mission trip. At the conference, you hear from doctors, other students who have been on trips in the past, and motivational speakers.

“I was the president and founder of Operation Smile at my high school and when I was a freshman in college I felt like a part of me was missing” Lepore said. “We have at least 20 active members and I believe in quality over quantity. If you have a small group of dedicated individuals, you can accomplish the same amount as if you had 100-200 members on a team.”

This past Tuesday, Operation Smile had a guest speaker in Hayden. Natalie Burke came and talked about the original doctor who started Operation Smile, and how to get involved with the organization.

“The doctor brought his daughter and wife with him and even though he was the one performing the surgeries, it was vital that his daughter was there because she connected with so many people. We can feel so inferior because we are so young but his daughter proved that anyone can make a difference” Lepore said. “You might tell yourself that ‘I’m a broke college student, how am I supposed to raise all of this money?’ I want people to realize that when you get together as a group, you can make a big impact.”

The Manhattan College chapter hit a few bumps in the road getting started. Originally they were denied by student government and student activities but they were eventually directed to campus ministry and Lois Harr helped jump start the club.

They found an academic advisor, Dr. Grishma Shaw, a teacher in the management department in the business school.

“About 20 years ago, I got involved with the club Operation Smile in my junior year of high school. When I was a senior in high school I went on my first medical mission trip abroad to Honduras” Shaw said. “It was one of the reasons why I dedicated a lot of time to service work and travelled the globe for it.”

Shaw fell in love with the work that Operation Smile does and the impact that they have on children and families across the globe.

“When people hear about the problems in the world, they become overwhelmed and I like Operation Smile because it is a very clean and clear way to make a positive impact on not just the child but the community as a whole,” Shaw said. “I want students to see that it doesn’t have to be a grand large-scale problem that you can solve over night because that is not going to happen but through your involvement in Operation Smile, you help with a 30-45 minute surgery for a cleft lip or pallet that will change a child’s life forever.”

Shaw has been on seven mission trips with Operation Smile including Russia, India, and the Philippines. She is also involved with the New Jersey Chapter and involved on a headquarters level. Along with that, she helped initiate the first trip to India and was the founder of the first Operation Smile chapter at Rutgers University, one of the most successful chapters in the North East today.

Each semester Operation Smile holds multiple fundraising events. They hope to raise enough money for at least 5 surgeries a year. The first fundraiser was a cookie sale, the group ended up raising around $260, enough for one surgery costing $240.

“The feeding is the main issue for these children. They suffer from malnutrition because they cannot properly eat with cleft palates and lips” Prant said. “It is 100% needed in their life, they cannot live a healthy and beneficial life without the surgery.”

“Our main mission is the spread awareness and get as many people involved as we can. Heidi and I are graduating and we want to leave behind a strong foundation” she said. “We want people at our club meeting to understand that we are fortunate enough to have access to safe health care so easily here and we can fundraise so we should help these people who rely on Operation Smile.”