Operation Smile Celebrates World Kindness Day with Dedicated Student and Medical Volunteers

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Operation Smile spreads kindness and compassion to others by providing life-changing surgeries and comprehensive care with the support of devoted volunteers.

Volunteer Skyler Griswold on Surgical Program in the Philippines

On this World Kindness Day, we are reminded through the dedication and exuberance of these volunteers that being kind to others and making deep, valuable connections are fulfilling and worthwhile gestures.

Introduced in 1998 by the World Kindness Movement, a coalition of international kindness NGOs, World Kindness Day encourages individuals to highlight good deeds in their communities and to perpetuate the common thread of kindness that connects us. Global surgical nonprofit Operation Smile is using World Kindness Day as an opportunity to feature some of the organization’s most dedicated volunteers. These individuals carry out the mission of Operation Smile with enthusiasm and passion and sustain those same values of service and kindness throughout their daily lives.

Ethan Richlak is a senior at Ohio State University in the pharmaceutical sciences program but when he’s not keeping up with his studies or preparing for the MCAT, he works with the Operation Smile student club at OSU on service projects and other initiatives in support of the nonprofit. Within the student club, Ethan and his classmates have hosted fundraising events, made blankets to send to Operation Smile patients overseas, and encouraged new member recruitment. Outside of the student club, Ethan supports Operation Smile and spreads kindness through his involvement with Cleft Connect, an online community for children with cleft conditions, and through his leadership roles at the Operation Smile Student Program’s International Student Leadership Conference (ISLC), a week-long conference held each year in a different city across the globe which brings together young leaders and teaches them the values of service and leadership.

Born with a cleft lip and palate himself, Ethan has experienced significant hardships throughout his care journey, making his connection to Operation Smile that much deeper. When asked about his future involvement with the nonprofit, Ethan said: “I would like to attend an international surgical program. I know it will be a life-changing experience for me. Being able to see and help patients from across the world who have had to go through what I have would be truly moving. I am excited to see what all our work as an organization is leading to and be able to witness first-hand the impact that we have on patients around the world.”

Hailing from Stephens City, Virginia, is another volunteer who shares the same vibrant enthusiasm for working with Operation Smile. Dr. Judy Nguyen is an anesthesiologist and medical volunteer with the nonprofit. She has attended over 40 surgical programs and is so committed to service that she uses her annual vacation time from her job to volunteer on surgical programs in Latin America. Dr. Nguyen says the reason she loves working with Operation Smile is that she can affect change through a brief operation. By giving her patients positive surgical outcomes that will improve their lives, she is providing those patients with the opportunity to spread light to others. This is Dr. Nguyen’s way of keeping the thread of kindness in motion.

“Sometimes, I’ll come back to a country, and I will see the kids I’ve taken care of a couple years back, and they recognize me, they remember me,” Dr. Nguyen reflects. “That’s the best feeling in the world to see them grow up and it’s just great. That’s why I keep doing it. Making one impact at a time.”

On the other side of the country, in Los Angeles, California, Skyler Griswold, student activist and Operation Smile volunteer does her part to spread kindness and positivity. Skyler is currently in her junior year at Harvard-Westlake School, but outside of her studies, Skyler attends fundraising events with Operation Smile and participates in the organization’s Student Programs endeavors. In the past, Skyler has performed spoken word pieces at Operation Smile fundraisers and most recently has acted as team leader at the International Student Leadership Conference that was held in Miami, Florida, this past summer. She also attended a couple of surgical programs in the Philippines and Peru that solidified her commitment to supporting the Operation Smile mission.

While reflecting on her time in Peru, Skyler said, “I had the privilege of handing a child back to a teary-eyed mother whose words could never fully express how grateful she was. That is by far the most memorable experience I have had working with Operation Smile. I was able to see why all these people do what they do in a single moment and was just happy to be a part of it. There was a connection that was made on a deeper level that cannot be had through conversation.”

On this World Kindness Day, we are reminded through the dedication and exuberance of these volunteers that being kind to others and making deep, valuable connections are fulfilling and worthwhile gestures. Through surgical programs, student programs, and myriad opportunities in between, Operation Smile fosters a community of positivity and kindness at every turn.

Additional photos are available here

About Operation Smile

Operation Smile is a global nonprofit specializing in expert cleft surgery and care. Over the last 40 years, we have provided medical expertise, research, and care through our dedicated staff and medical and student volunteers around the world, working alongside local governments, nonprofits, and health systems, and supported by our generous donors. Learn more at https://www.operationsmile.org/ or by following @operationsmile on social media.

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Julie Dion
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