A New Club Wants to Bring Smiles to Campus


Courtesy of Regina Vahey

By Ethan Stickler

A student organization, Operation Smile, is beginning this semester at Catholic University. It is an international organization aimed at providing cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries for primarily children and young adults in impoverished areas. The organization currently operates out of coastal Virginia and has chapters all over the world. For students interested in learning about what Catholic students can do to support this cause the first meeting is January 29 at 7 p.m. in Pryz 323. 

Operation Smile aims to raise money, increase awareness about cleft conditions, and bring doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, social workers, and other medical professionals to remote locations in Central and South America, Asia, and Africa to perform cleft surgeries so children and adults can walk around with the confidence of a smile. The organization provides safe and well-timed surgeries in order to lift the financial barriers and burdens that may prevent families from the medical treatments. The surgery is paid for by the organization, and transportation and housing are provided during the time of surgery. Translators are on-site for the convenience of the families and patients who receive treatment. 

Cleft palates and cleft lips are an opening of the skin on the top of the lip and/or a hole in the roof of the mouth.

Although the surgeries take place far away from the D.C. community, Catholic University students are being given the chance to help raise money and awareness on campus. Operation Smile is led by sophomore Regina Vahey, a biomedical engineering major. This student organization focuses on service, fundraising, and leadership with the ultimate goal of sending students on mission trips. 

“It is only the first semester and I want to raise awareness since a lot of people are unaware of the organization,” said Vahey. 

Although the organization is well-known, the university’s chapter is still new and by bringing it to campus, Vahey hopes the passion and joy she has found from this group spreads across the campus community. As a high school student, Vahey became involved with her school’s Operation Smile club as a resume builder without the expectation of becoming an integral member of the club. By her senior year, she became the president of the club and went on a mission trip to Asunción, Paraguay. This is a project that Vahey is very passionate about and by bringing the club to campus, she wants people to feel what she felt when she went on a mission in South America. For Vahey, the experience of going on a mission trip is one of pure excitement and fulfillment because of the opportunity to see the transformation of patients’ lives in person. 

“It is a basic human right for everyone to access to safe, well-timed surgery,” says Vahey. 

At Catholic U, the club plans on supporting the three pillars of Operation Smile’s student programs: service, fundraising, and leadership. One service project Vahey has planned includes making sock puppets for the children to use post-surgery with their speech pathologists so they have a fun way to practice their speech exercises. Vahey has a goal of funding at least one surgery, or “smile,” which is a way of measuring fundraising efforts. In terms of leadership, e-board elections will happen this semester, and Vahey will talk about the opportunity to go on a mission trip with the organization next year. Overall, the local chapter of the club at Catholic is an advocacy project aimed at raising awareness for the larger organization and getting people to care about something as simple as a smile that everyone deserves to feel. 

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