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Next time a charity asks for a contribution, ask them what else they're gonna do with it.

One organization has figured out a smart way to succeed that other charities may want to think about.

Charitable organizations often struggle to find the money they need to continue their good work.

Not SmileTrain. Survival's been baked right in.

SmileTrain's mission is repairing cleft palates and lips in children around the world. Without them, these kids would never get these life-changing surgeries.


What's a cleft palate, anyway?

Your palate is the roof of your mouth, and a cleft occurs when the palate hasn't properly formed, leaving a split, a gap, in the palate.

A cleft typically goes all the way out, so there's often a gap in the lip, sometimes a break in the gum line, and there can be nothing there all the way up to the nose.

The thing is, surgery can fix these problems if the child has access to treatment. In lots of places, there aren't doctors or facilities or money to pay for operations.

Without surgeries, many of these kids barely stand a chance.

Their palates and lips make them look different.

And in many cultures, looking that different means you're automatically an outcast.

Even more seriously, they have trouble eating.

Cleft-palate babies often can't take a bottle because they lack the necessary suction because air escapes through their cleft. They don't get the nutrition they need to grow or even survive.

They have trouble talking.

Since cleft-palate kids can't control air in their mouths that well, speech is difficult. In some cultures, they're considered such lost causes that no one even tries to teach them to speak.

They get sick.

Chronic ear infections can be a persistent side effect of having a cleft palate. Having weak immune systems from eating issues doesn't help.

That's where SmileTrain comes in.

Two key ideas keep this charity in business.

First: Don't be a temporary solution.

SmileTrain doesn't just sweep into a country with foreign doctors and operate on whoever they have time for. They train local doctors in the latest techniques and help provide operating rooms. This results in motivated, well-trained, local surgeons who carry on the mission long after they've gone.

Second: Persuade local stakeholders that helping makes good business sense.

SmileTrain figured out how to make a compelling case to local governments that it costs more to have a population of budget-draining castoffs than to provide the care they need to become fully productive members of their communities. This has generated an exceptional amount of local government support — read: money — to pay for surgeries. If an organization has a worthwhile mission, they just have to learn how to make the case.

Putting these two things together may provide a workable model for other charities.

This video digs down into the strategy behind SmileTrain.

FULL DISCLOSURE: A SmileTrain-trained surgeon is probably responsible for my 4-year-old daughter's beautifully repaired cleft lip. (Her palate was repaired in the States.)

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

A simple solution for all ages, really.

School should feel like a safe space. But after the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, many children are scared to death. As a parent or a teacher, it can be an arduous task helping young minds to unpack such unthinkable monstrosities. Especially when, in all honesty, the adults are also terrified.

Katelyn Campbell, a clinical psychologist in South Carolina, worked with elementary school children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. She recently shared a simple idea that helped then, in hopes that it might help now.

The psychologist tweeted, “We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the ‘other kids who were scared’ have something calm to look at.”



“Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless,” she continued, saying that drawing gave them something useful to do.

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It can be hard to find hope in hard times, but we have examples of humanity all around us.

I almost didn't create this post this week.

As the U.S. reels from yet another horrendous school massacre, barely on the heels of the Buffalo grocery store shooting and the Laguna Woods church shooting reminding us that gun violence follows us everywhere in this country, I find myself in a familiar state of anger and grief and frustration. One time would be too much. Every time, it's too much. And yet it keeps happening over and over and over again.

I've written article after article about gun violence. I've engaged in every debate under the sun. I've joined advocacy groups, written to lawmakers, donated to organizations trying to stop the carnage, and here we are again. Round and round we go.

It's hard not to lose hope. It would be easy to let the fuming rage consume every bit of joy and calm and light that we so desperately want and need. But we have to find a balance.

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