Have you ever had one of those bolt of lightning moments of awareness knowing exactly where you belong, while simultaneously realizing it’s never going to happen. That’s how I felt the first time I heard about Doctors Without Borders. That was me. I wanted to be those people, to work to end suffering for people who otherwise would not get treatment.
While I’m all about ignoring stumbling blocks, envisioning goals, making them happen, I am also a realist. Dang, even I know it’s not realistic to think I could envision a medical degree into existence. I’m so not a medical person, take me to visit a friend in the hospital and I get faint just entering the building.
Fast forward a couple of decades to a series of unplanned events that took my dream from frustrated imaginings, to reality. It all began when I joined facebook to spy on my teenagers have a window into the world of my wonderful children.
I started a facebook group about looking for happiness in the everyday, and smiley faces in everyday objects. The group led to a website, that led to TED Talk, that led to a children’s book. With so much media attention and the resulting website traffic, an acquaintance said to me one day, “Too bad, with all this buzz, you’re not doing something for the greater good.” I’d argue that spreading happiness is for the greater good; maybe someday she’ll see that. But, her comment made me start thinking. How could I align my project with a charity?
I didn’t have to think long before realizing there was a perfect match out there. Perfect on a couple of levels. I’d once been in a bad accident where I injured my face. Nine years and an equal number of surgeries later my smile was restored. During that journey I needed braces and through my orthodontist came to know about Operation Smile which gives free surgeries to children with facial deformities such as cleft lip and palate. My project’s tag line is Spreading happiness, one Smiley at a time. Operation Smile’s is Changing lives, one smile at a time. Ba-da-bing! How perfect is that?!
So I cold called them, introduced myself, told them about my project, and told them I wanted to raise money for them. For every Smiley upload to my site we’d donate a dollar. Four years and a whole lot of Smileys later, Spontaneous Smiley has funded 32 kids’ surgeries. Not a ton, but for a preschool teacher just diddling around on her computer after work, not too shabby. And FYI my pals, Alan and Cheryl Greene, of good old Drgreen.com were huge supporters with a donation of $1000!!
Just as I never imagined my goofy hobby would become a global goofy hobby, I never imagined the next chapter of this story. By my helping Operation Smile, they would end up helping my dream come true. Operation Smile actually has a role for non-medical types like me. Every mission includes two or three Student Volunteers. Here’s where I come in; these high schoolers are in need of a chaperone. When I heard this I was like the kid in the back of the classroom waving my hand, squirming in my seat and yelling, “Pick me. Pick me. Pick me.”
That’s how it came to pass that a dream, I’d accepted as unattainable, finally did come true. So far I’ve chaperoned on two trips, watching over the American teenagers, holding babies, and comforting parents. The funny thing was that when it happened, it felt so right, so of course, so meant to be. I may not have trained medically, but my life as a mom and a teacher actually had been the perfect training. Don’t ever forget that your life as a parent has prepared you to do just about anything!!
I feel so lucky, so overflowing with gratitude, that Operation Smile has made these experiences a part of my life’s journey, that these stories are now part of my story.
Smile. Be happy. Be happier!
Ruth Kaiser, the Smiley Lady of Spontaneous Smiley
P.S.: If you’d like to help, I’d like that too. Any amount helps. Every donation helps add to the joy of a new smile.