GSF Volunteer Mitchell Woodruff shared an inspiring #MyGivingStory for this year’s Giving Tuesday Contest. Click Here to learn more about the contest and check out his piece: Yogurt, Cookie Cake, and smiles!

 It was 23:00, there was a sense calm on the unit, the halls were dimly lit, and the smell of…well this is a hospital so no need describe the smell. All of a sudden, shrills were heard from a nearby room. A mom began pleading with her daughter to calm down. Drinks were offered, snacks were ordered, movies were offered, but there was something else this little girl had on her mind. No nurses were nearby, except one. One new and naïve nurse. Rocking a superman shirt and with no one in sight, clearly he was obligated to save the day.

So why all the screaming? Yogurt. All she wanted was some yogurt, but there was none to be had on this unit. However, this pseudo superhero just so happened to be packing some yogurt. He quickly offered his cinnamon-roll Carb Master yogurt to the girl, who didn’t hesitate to accept. With the child’s appetite satiated, and the mother’s anxiety relieved everyone had a peaceful night. The next night the nurse, now wearing a Ninja Turtles shirt, checked on this little girl and her family, and to his surprise they had purchased him a cookie cake out of gratitude. The nurse could do nothing but smile.

Giving doesn’t have to be a large act. So many small acts of giving can make a large impact. If you hadn’t guessed by now, the nurse in that story, well that was me. That night I realized how powerful small acts of giving can be. It brought a sense of satisfaction to me, and a feeling of joy. Maybe it was seeing a smile on the mother’s face when I offered the yogurt. Maybe it was the sincere thank you. Maybe it was the taste of cookie cake. Or maybe it was watching the girl treat the yogurt like Joey Chestnut eating a hot dog on 4th of July. Regardless, all I knew at that moment was how powerful giving can be, and how much of a difference I could make by giving more than yogurt.

So, this past year I decided it was time to step up my giving beyond handing out yogurts in my Walmart bought superhero t-shirts. Through discussions with other nurses, research, and word of mouth I came across Global Smile Foundation. From the first stories I heard of their mission trips, to meeting the founder I knew that this would be my medium of giving. You see, Global Smile Foundation is in a niche of foundations that provide children hope. Hope to be able to eat, drink, breathe, and most importantly smile by correcting their cleft lips and palates. They meticulously select a staff of some of the top surgeons, anesthesiologists, dentists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, nurses, and administration. Every detail of each trip is mulled over to no end to make sure the procedures run smooth, the patients are safe, and the staff give it their all at maximum level.

Who wouldn’t want to call themselves a team member on such a team? After months of emails and persistence I was invited to join a mission to Guayaquil, Ecuador. I instantly accepted the invitation, and the gifts Global Smile gave me with this experience are ones that I use every day and will always carry with me. So many aspects about this trip made a large impact in my life that when asked to choose one for another essay, I simply couldn’t. So here are my top three ways that Global Smile impacted me and will influence me to continue giving.

First, the team. On the playground, through recruiting, or through a draft, selecting people to be part of a great team is difficult. So many perspectives, opinions, and personalities allow for hiccups. However, Global Smile Foundation put together a team of 40 individuals for my mission to Ecuador, and I have to say even Bill Belichick would be jealous. There was such an ease in integrating with all these highly skilled professionals from around the world that I did not expect. From day 1 the chemistry, efficiency, and communication created a bond that allowed all 40 of us to execute our goals at the highest level. For 40 people from different cultures and walks of life to come together on a volunteer basis, throw away their egos, and also have fun inspired me. They showed me that all differences aside a group of people can give up a weeks of their normal lives, and offer their unique skills and resources to create change on a grand scale.
Second, the families. What Global Smile Foundation is able to bring to these families and children is nothing less than a miracle. Every family we cared knew this and displayed a sense of sincere gratitude that is rare to find these days. Typically, we express our gratitude through gifts and our words, but since my Spanish is on a Dora the Explorer level I picked up their feelings of gratitude through a different medium; expression. I learned on this mission that all humans speak a common language, one without words. Through these family’s tears, handshakes, laughs, and smiles I easily understood how they felt. Watching a mother gaze at her baby for the first time after surgery, with tears welling up in their eyes, said it all. Seeing families tear up when the surgeon introduced himself said even more. Having mother’s and father’s faces light up when they see your face on our little reunion day tells me how impactful Global Smile’s impact truly is on these families.

Third, the power of people. All of what I described has an origin story, just like all foundations. What amazes me is the origin story for any foundation or organization begins as a thought of one or a few people. A thought of how they can utilize their skills and resources to bring about change in this world. And with passion and determination those thoughts are transformed into reality. In the case of Global Smile, a reality where thousands of children and their families have had their lives changed for the better. A reality where healthcare professionals from different countries are united to provide smiles to children from all over the world. A reality where even the volunteer’s lives are changed. One thought and goal, and a few people is all it takes to impact people from all over the world. This fact is awe-inspiring and has created a realization that in the context of giving and change we are all powerful people.
Experiences like the one I had in Ecuador are why I give, and organizations like Global Smile only continue to present opportunities for people to give back. I can’t thank this foundation enough for what they have given me. And here is the last lesson I have learned, that giving is infectious. No matter if you are on the receiving end or the giving end, it creates a desire to spread the giving. Global Smile gave me this experience, these lessons, friends, and new opportunities. Basically, Global Smile gave me a yogurt, and this is my attempt to give them a cookie cake.

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