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Operation Smile makes a reintroduction in the Roaring Fork Valley

Locals facilitating awareness, student clubs for organization that provides cleft palate surgeries

A medical crew involved with Operation Smile gathers around a child who was served by the organization.
Operation Smile/Courtesy photo

Operation Smile is making its way back into the Roaring Fork Valley through involvement in local schools and a small event this week, according to valley local Jennifer Jones.

Representatives from the nonprofit medical service organization that provides surgeries for cleft palates and cleft lips will make the rounds to lay the groundwork for more involvement in the months and years to come.

“We’re formally trying to reintroduce them to the valley at a time when we’re looking at the 40th anniversary,” said Jones, who collaborated with Aspen realtor Sarah Woelfe on the reintroduction effort.



The organization, which was founded in 1982, plans to establish 40 district hospitals in 40 different countries to celebrate four decades of nonprofit work next year.

“They’re trying to build this longer lasting culture of service and giving,” Jones said.




It’s a significant undertaking even for Operation Smile, which already has international ties through its advocacy work and initiatives (often mission-based) to provide cleft palate and cleft lip surgeries.

The effort will allow Operation Smile to raise the level and expand the scope of care the organization provides in those countries and also create long-term infrastructure and support that will operate outside the limited window of medical missions, according to Jones.

“It’s a pretty big initiative, … but I think that the thing that really strikes me about it is, especially in the last year and a half, you realize how all of our health care is so interconnected,” Jones said.

Jones has been involved with the organization “off and on” since childhood. She grew up in Virginia Beach, where Operation Smile is based, and forged a friendship with Brigette Magee (now Brigette Magee Clifford), whose parents William and Kathy Magee founded the organization in 1982.

Together, the two founded a student club for Operation Smile at their middle school; fitting, then, that Magee Clifford continues to work with the student division of the organization and that this week’s outreach in the Roaring Fork Valley involves visits to a handful of local schools.

“That’s what’s really exciting to me about it is the student program that we started, you know, whatever it was, 30 years ago, 35 years ago, it’s grown into this huge organization, or piece of the organization,” Jones said. Students in the clubs raise awareness and funds but also can participate in an international leadership conference and go on medical missions.

“It’s a really cool base of support that they have that’s really been there since the beginning,” Jones said.

It’s a reintroduction rather than a first meeting between area students and Operation Smile, as there used to be clubs at some nearby schools.

In addition to the school visits this week, a Saturday event in Aspen will gather about 50 invitees from the community to build awareness of the work that Operation Smile does. Those interested in learning more can contact Jones at eljebel1@comcast.net.

“We are targeting the whole Roaring Fork Valley,” Jones said.

kwilliams@aspentimes.com


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