Operation Smile is a charity organization for children – donate non profit
Operation Smile is a charity organization for children – donate non profit

February 19, 2015

Student Aims to Comfort Patients

Leanna Caplan, Operation Smile Staff

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Spencer Wade is a 12-year-old girl with a compassionate heart. She is no stranger to combining her interests and passions with making a difference. Spencer learned about Operation Smile when she was in elementary school and felt connected to help the children who were born with cleft lip and cleft palate. She liked that Operation Smile helps children around the world who are less fortunate by giving them free surgery.

“I think that when someone’s born with a cleft lip or cleft palate, they feel kind of like they can’t show themselves so they’re kind of nervous to go to school - like if they can go to school,” Spencer said. “By doing things with Operation Smile, you can help them to feel better themselves if they receive a surgery. Because now they feel more like everyone else, so they can fit in.”

Spencer likes to swim, and her first project for Operation Smile was a fundraising campaign called “Swim for Smiles” that she did when she was 10 years old. “It makes me feel good to help other people who maybe can’t do some of the things that we can, and we have some of the extra money that can go to help them with some of the things they can’t afford,” Spencer said. Each of her family members swam 15 miles to raise money. Spencer even helped manage their campaign website. After their campaign ended, she and her family raised enough money to give life-changing surgeries to five children.

Spencer’s mother, Mandy Wade said serving others is important to their family. She wanted Spencer to realize that, even as a student, she could help children in need through Operation Smile.

Last year, when Spencer was prompted by her middle school to do a community service project, she thought of Operation Smile again. Spencer became interested in sewing at summer camp, and got the idea to create Smile Dolls from Operation Smile’s website. Spencer wanted to make her dolls more personalized. In true entrepreneurial spirit, she made a few prototypes of the dolls and brought her favorite doll to our Global Headquarters to pitch the idea. Operation Smile staff members loved the idea so she started sewing.

“I wanted the kids that I gave these Smile Dolls to, to feel more comforted before and after their surgery. Because I know that going through surgery, even though I haven’t been through surgery, can be really scary,” Spencer said.  “I wanted them to feel like someone else is watching out for them and that they aren’t alone in going through surgery.”

She used yarn for the dolls’ braided hair and hand embroidered the faces. Sewing 50 dolls was more time consuming than Spencer originally thought, so she enlisted the help of her family. Spencer and her mom, dad and brother spent many nights in their family room sewing the dolls together.

“Sometimes, you feel like ‘I’m just one person,’ and it’s hard to feel like you can make a difference for others. But I think the power of groups is huge, and this is maybe one small thing that can make a difference,” Spencer’s mom said. “For this project, I think it helped to make a connection hopefully – a richer connection – for these people who live in other countries who maybe don’t have all of the other conveniences and all of what we sort of learned to take for granted.”

Spencer is taking French in school, and added notes to each of the dolls in both French and English. In the notes, she introduced herself and wished the patients a ‘get well soon’ message. Spencer’s thoughtful and loving Smile Dolls will be sent to a French-speaking country in Africa to provide comfort to the children from another child who truly cares about them.

In the future, Spencer would like to travel on a medical mission with Operation Smile to interact with the other children and continue to do volunteer projects. 

Tags:   Our Blog, Student Stories, Volunteer Stories, Europe, Middle East and Africa, United States