Bottles for Bright Futures

Volunteer Story
Nine-year-old Abigail Moen. Photo courtesy of Alexandra Moen.
Nine-year-old Abigail Moen. Photo courtesy of Alexandra Moen.

Over the course of a year, 9-year-old Abigail Moen not only changed the life of someone she’ll never meet, but inspired people from her community to join together and help along the way.

Last year, while watching TV with her dad, Abigail saw a commercial for Operation Smile showcasing the work that the organization accomplishes for families affected by cleft.

While saddened to see the obstacles that many of those children living in low- and middle-income countries can face, including the devastating isolation and life-threatening health issues, Abigail became inspired to be a part of something that was making a global impact.

Before the commercial, Abigail had never heard of a cleft lip or cleft palate. But according to Abigail’s mother, Alexandra, the lack of knowledge only motivated her daughter more to learn as much as she could about Operation Smile.  

“She went to the (Operation Smile) website to see how much it would cost for a surgery,” Alexandra said. “The surgery for one kid is $240, so that’s how much she wanted to raise.”

As someone who hopes to one day dedicate her life to helping people, Abigail instinctively felt the need to create the biggest difference that she could.

Filled with a compassion and drive to better the world around her, Abigail came up with a fundraising idea that impacted more than just Operation Smile.

Photo courtesy of Alexandra Moen.
Photo courtesy of Alexandra Moen.

“I decided to collect bottles because I knew the ocean had too much plastic, and I thought recycling bottles could help the ocean and help a kid get surgery,” Abigail said.

At the beginning of her journey, Abigail solely collected the bottles that her family accumulated. Every weekend, she and her parents traveled to the reverse vending machine, carrying with them multiple trash bags and containers packed full of bottles that they wished to exchange – 5 cents for each individual bottle.

As she gradually continued toward her goal, Abigail saw the opportunity to involve her community.

“When neighbors would recycle, she would get them,” Alexandra said. “She told her friends in school and she talked to her principal and they got involved.”

Through mobilizing members of her community, Abigail not only met her goal, but exceeded it; she collected more than 6,000 bottles and raised $338 dollars for Operation Smile.

By spreading awareness and rallying friends and family, Abigail changed the life of a child living with cleft, showing the thousands of people who've heard her story that no one is too young to make a big difference.

And Abigail says that her work has only just begun.  

“I want to have a bake sale and a yard sale,” she said. “I’d like to make bracelets and sell them to raise more money for Operation Smile. I’m actually still collecting bottles.”

With a new fundraising goal of $450, Abigail was prepared to work twice as hard to help make surgeries possible for waiting children. But with more people reading her story and learning about her Smile Fund page, Abigail’s goal was met in less than a week.

Again, she strives to go higher. Knowing that there are still children who are in need of safe cleft surgery, she's increased her goal, hoping to raise $1,000 by the end of the year. Of that total, $680 have been raised.

“I always want to help others. It feels good,” Abigail said. “I want to help the kids so they can have a nice smile and have confidence. We all can be kind and help others.”