PUT ON A HAPPY FACE!

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Malibu's Roma Downey, reality TV titan Mark Burnett and their family are honored for their longtime support of Operation Smile. Photo by Vince Bucci

One year ago, Operation Smile launched the most ambitious journey in its history. To mark its 25th year, the organization dispatched more than 1,900 volunteers to 40 locations around the world. From Columbia to Vietnam, they repaired one facial deformity after another, giving thousands of children a reason to smile.

Now it was time to celebrate that achievement and thank the volunteers who made it all possible. One of Operation Smile’s biggest fans is Malibu’s Roma Downey. Roma became involved with the life-changing organization while working on her acclaimed television series “Touched by an Angel.” She’s been an Operation Smile spokesperson for five years and serves on its Board of Governors.

While Roma has gone on several medical missions, her most recent was closest to her heart. Earlier this year, Roma and husband Mark Burnett took their children James, Reilly and Cameron to Jordan where they donned scrubs to witness the Operation Smile “miracle” first hand. The Roma Downey and Mark Burnett family was also singled out for special honors at this year’s Smile Gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

The theme was inspired by the organization’s new charity hospital in Hangzhou, China. A trio of traditional Chinese musicians serenaded gala goers at the VIP cocktail party, while Roma and her clan posed for pics on the red carpet. Enormous Chinese dragons summoned the crowd to dinner before a colorful stage done up in vibrant colors of sapphire blue, ruby red and emerald green. In addition to forks and knives, the tables were set with chopsticks. In place of your basic rubber chicken fare, guests were treated to a Chinese feast of hoisin lettuce cups, harvest spring rolls, ginger pot stickers, black bean beef tenderloin, garlic noodles and stir fry bok choy.

The evening’s entertainment included an impressive lineup of Chinese acrobats. Among the most skilled was a Captain Marvel look alike who managed to serve a pot of tea on his head while riding a unicycle. “How great were those acrobats,” marveled emcee Giuliana Rancic. The E! Entertainment host also told ladies in the crowd to get ready for honoree Mario Lopez, whom she called “one of the sexiest men alive.”

Before guests tucked into a dessert of lychee nuts and mango sorbet, Operation Smile Co-Founders Bill and Kathy McGee took the stage. “In ten days we went around the world,” Kathy explained, “and we have never seen anything like the dedication and commitment of our volunteers.” Bill described Operation Smile as “a big family and the kids are the thanks we get.” In the last quarter century, 120,000 children and teens have been given a second chance, thanks to the organization.

Heartthrob Mario soon took the stage along with fellow honorees, restaurateur Vicky Mense and “American Idol Gives Back.”

The evening wrapped up on a touching note with Roma’s talented kids singing the James Taylor classic “You’ve Got a Friend.”

Bill had words of thanks for all the evening’s honorees and supporters on behalf of kids around the world. “These children may never know your name,” he said, “but they will never forget your kindness.”

The evening of honors raised a whopping $2 million. Now that’s something to smile about!

Got a hot happening or cool event? Send the 411 to kimdevore@malibutimes.com.