Smiles for a bit of change at Luigi Aprea

Dominic Bettencourt, left, helps Brandon Cook decorate a label

They might not have had their surgery yet, but some children
with clef lips and clef palates have something to smile about.
They might not have had their surgery yet, but some children with clef lips and clef palates have something to smile about.

A Luigi Aprea Elementary School fourth-grade class is raising money for Operation Smile – a charity that organizes surgery to correct naturally occurring facial deformities. The class raised more than $450 – enough for almost two surgeries – in just two weeks and hopes to raise $900 by the end of the year. With matching donations from co-teachers Karen McCarry and Kathie Hendren and their friends, the total of $1,800 could sponsor six surgeries.

Students started collecting loose change Oct. 8, primarily from their parents and relatives, in old two-liter soda bottles, bulk chopped garlic jugs – any large plastic container. Some students withdrew money from their savings to donate.

Then, they bring the change back to the class, pour it our of their containers – which are highly decorated and branded with slogans, such as “you can help by donating any kind of change” – and count it out in 50-cent, one-dollar or two-dollar amounts to add to the class total. At the end of the year, the class will make a donation to Operation Smile.

The aim is to sponsor the surgeries of six poor children in countries less developed than the United States. Clef palates and lips – separations in skin on the lip or roof of mouth – are genetic defects occurring once in about 600 births

Clef lips often prevent full closure of the mouth, breaking the mouth’s vacuum, and infants from being able to create suction from a bottle or mother’s breast. Surgeries can remedy this problem by making the lip conform to a normal shape, thereby restoring utility. Clef lips and palates can also create problems for children when the learn to speak because the deformities change the way sounds come out of their mouth.

Yet, many of the fourth-grade students, having seen pictures of the deformities, sympathized with afflicted children because of the teasing it can inspire.

“They’re probably sad right now, because they’re made fun of because the have clef lips or clef palates,” said 9-year-old Alex Bilyk.

“They’re going to be so happy if they get normal,” said 9-year-old Jordan Jacinto.

Teachers are seizing this sympathy and enthusiasm in the project to pep up the typical subjects. Math lessons often involve the money collected, an English lesson could be how to write a letter asking for donations and in a science lesson, students examine the state of worldwide healthcare.

The project not only enhances the core subjects of fourth grade, it inspires students to grow up to be good people, McCarry said.

“We also want well-rounded students, students who have compassion,” she said. “I want these kids to grow up and know it’s good to give to causes.”

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