Touching lives one smile at a time

On June 5, the Malibu High School Chapter of Operation Smile will be holding its 6th annual gala to raise funds for the international children’s medical charity.

By Meagan McCrary / Special to Malibu Times

Founded 12 years ago, Malibu High School Chapter of Operation Smile is one of 500 student associations throughout the world volunteering to help build awareness and raise funds for the nonprofit organization, and will be holding its 6th annual fundraising gala June 5 at Semler Wines on Mulholland Highway.

Dedicated to improving the health and lives of children and young adults, Operation Smile provides free facial reconstructive surgery in Third World countries, and since its inception in 1982, the nonprofit organization has treated more than 130,000 children born with cleft lips, cleft palates and other facial deformities.

Every year the children’s charity conducts more than 25 international medical missions, taking two volunteer students and one chaperone on each. This August, Brigette Leonard, a middle school teacher at MHS, will accompany juniors Allegra Bell and Savannah Mosser on a mission to Liaocheng, China where they will spend two weeks working with a team of credentialed medical professionals from throughout the world.

“Being with the children and their families during such a life changing experience will be something that I will carry with me forever,” said Bell, who raised more than $1,000 for the upcoming mission to China (going above and beyond the $500 team mission fee).

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Inspired by a high school presentation in sixth grade, Bell became apart of the MHS Chapter of Operation Smile as a freshman and is looking forward to sharing her story with the next generation of high school students.

“Operation Smile has truly become a passion for me. It allows you to take an active part of improving the lives of people in need,” Bell said. “Dedicating my time and energy to this cause is truly a gift.”

In the past, Malibu High students have been on missions to Thailand, Russia, Vietnam, Brazil and many other countries; between 300 and 500 children receive full medical evaluation, and 100 to 150 children are surgically treated on a typical mission.

“Seeing firsthand what a 45-minute, $240 operation can do [for] not only a child, but his or her whole family, is something that is a gift for me as much as it is for them,” Sarah Prunier, club advisor, said.

Having worked with the MHS club for nine years, and attending five Operation Smile mission, Prunier explained that in some cultures children with cleft lips are believed to be possessed by the devil and never go to school. Children with cleft palates often suffer from malnutrition because they cannot eat solid foods. “Operation Smile gives these kids a chance to live a normal social life,” she said.

The MHS Operation Smile gala June 5 at Semler Wines will begin with cocktails and a silent auction at 6:30 p.m., followed by dinner at 8 p.m. This year’s guest speaker is a young woman from Bakersfield who was born with a cleft lip, and has raised tens of thousands of dollars for Operation Smile. Tickets are $125 a person, or $200 a couple, and can be reserved by calling Sarah Prunier at 310.774.1375.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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