Working on spreading smiles around the world

Tali Kozak, 12th grader at Malibu High School and vice president of the schools' Operation Smile Club, visits with a child in India with Operation Smile last year. The nonprofit Operation Smile organization provides free reconstructive surgery to children around the world.

Malibu High School students hold their first fundraising event to raise monies for Operation Smile, an organization that provides free reconstructive surgery to thousands of people suffering from facial deformities.

By Lori Allen / Special to The Malibu Times

Students as part of the Operation Smile Club at Malibu High School are smiling proudly as they get ready to host their first formal fundraising event to support the Operation Smile charity. For the past 10 years the Operation Smile Club at Malibu High School has met on a weekly basis to raise awareness and money for the nonprofit organization. The club has held a water bottle drive, a citywide dollar drive and will be selling bracelets for the organization that are similar to the popular yellow “Live Strong” bracelets, which support the fight against cancer.

Founded in 1982 by Dr. William Magee, a plastic surgeon, and his wife Kathleen, a nurse and social worker, Operation Smile provides free reconstructive surgery and other medical assistance to thousands of people suffering from facial deformities. Malibu High School’s Operation Smile Club is a branch of the worldwide organization. Members from the club attend summer leadership conferences with students from other high schools in the U.S. and abroad. These conferences are geared to make young students more aware of social issues. Proceeds raised at various Malibu High School fundraising events are sent to the headquarters based in Norfolk, Va.

Tickets cost $100 for the school’s fundraising event, which includes a sit-down, three-course dinner with a complementary glass of wine and live entertainment from the Malibu High School “Funk Band.” A silent auction will also take place and guest speakers involved with Operation Smile and students will talk about their experiences attending an Operation Smile mission abroad. There will also be an opportunity to donate $250 to help an impoverished child “We are very optimistic as to what the outcome of the banquet will come to be,” said Tali Kozak, 12th grade student and vice president of the club at Malibu High School. “We have our goals set as for the amount of money we hope to raise. Aside from the fundraiser aspect of the banquet, the most significant outcome we are hoping for is the amount of awareness we will be able to spread through the community.”

Local filmmaker Jeff Kramer plans to speak at the club’s event about his feature film, “Smile,” which was based on his daughter’s involvement with MHS’ Operation Smile Club, and the importance of contributing to the chapter at Malibu High School. “Show up, have fun and give generously,” Kramer said.

English teacher and co-advisor for the Malibu High School Operation Smile Club, Sarah Bell, said she is proud of the work her students are doing to make this fundraiser a success.

“This dinner/auction is our greatest endeavor yet, as it requires a lot of planning and organization by students. They are getting flowers, invitations and wine donated. They are truly giving their all to make this event elegant and memorable. We hope it is the first annual such event,” Bell said in a recent interview.

In 2002, Bell went with Operation Smile to volunteer on missions in Peru and China. Several times a year, Operation Smile takes surgeons, anesthesiologists, dentists, speech pathologists, child life specialists, biomedical technicians, medical records coordinators, translators, students and volunteers to different countries to provide surgeries, promote advocacy and heal those who have been emotionally hurt by society.

“Every time I saw a child receive a new chance at life, it was a life-changing experience,” Bell said. “Operation Smile volunteers repair not only their faces and mouths, but also their spirits.”

Another purpose for the dinner banquet is to encourage more students, faculty and locals to attend international missions with the organization.

“My trip to India was like being given the opportunity to actually see and experience a different world,” Kozak said about her recent volunteer mission experience with Operation Smile in 2004. “No matter how much people are told about the harsh conditions of other countries, or how many pictures and movies people see, it’s actually being there that physically enables you to expand your level of understanding through a clearer perspective.”

The dinner banquet and silent auction is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Sunset Restaurant and Beach Bar, located at 6800 Westward Beach Road on June 3. More information can be obtained by contacting Sarah Bell at 310.774.1375 or Tali Kozak at 310.924.5094.