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Alumnus Nick Gould, Class of 2010, and a team of volunteers from the Gallaudet community hope to improve the lives of children in developing countries through a cross-country bicycle trek beginning in May 2011 to raise funds for Operation Smile. The organization has a global mission to provide surgical procedures to correct facial conditions such as cleft palates in children that prevent them from doing simple tasks like smiling, talking, and eating.

Dubbed Operation: Miles for Smiles, and working independently from Operation Smile, the team includes Gould, project manager and rider; Christopher Kearney, finance manager; Lizzie Sorkin, media specialist; Krista Brown, community developer; Rachel Rose, logistics manager and rider; Jon Kovacs, business/marketing guru; Colin Analco, road crew; Renca Dunn, rider; and Rachel Benedict, rider. Gould, Rose, and Gallaudet students Dunn and Benedict hope to raise $24,000, an amount that will bring smiles to 100 children through corrective surgeries.

Although each surgery takes only 45 minutes and costs just $240, many children in developing countries go without the procedure. Cleft conditions also carry a stigma in some cultures because they are believed to be caused by curses, and people with these conditions are frequently shunned.

The Operation: Miles for Smiles team is depending on the community to help it meet its fundraising goal. The team is encouraging people to become “smile activists,” people who help raise money to cover the full cost of a smile by hosting events or collecting donations.

The idea to bicycle across the nation came to Gould while working as a recruiter in 2010 for Gallaudet’s Admissions Office. He recalled driving on a country road in northern Alabama late at night on a recruiting trip when he came upon two people bicycling furiously in the rain. “They had saddlebags and were obviously bicycling … with a pressing deadline, and I found their roughness inspiring,” he said. Gould later talked to a friend about undertaking a cross-country bicycle trek. His friend suggested doing it for charity and Gould immediately seized on the idea. Brown and Rose were the first two people on board.

Gould believes that he was destined to participate in this charitable endeavor. He remembers being in kindergarten when he opened a fortune cookie that read, “Your smile will change the world.” Although he didn’t understand the message at the time, it made an impression on him, and the memory came back to him when he made the decision to start Operation: Miles for Smiles.

The trek will begin May 18 and continue through July. The organizers chose a route beginning in Venice Beach, Calif., and ending at St. Augustine, Fla. There are numerous other cross-country routes that Operation: Miles for Smiles could have chosen–some far easier–but they selected this specific one due to its proximity to deaf communities. The riders will hit major deaf hubs like Riverside, Calif. and Austin, Tex., as well as several deaf programs in public schools.

Following this path, Gould and the other riders have another mission–to help to recruit potential students for Gallaudet University and demonstrate by example that Gallaudet produces civic-minded leaders. “We want to show people that Gallaudet can be a place where you go to develop your leadership skills,” Rose explained.

As of this writing, through advance fundraising efforts, Operation: Miles for Smiles has been able to help 13 children receive surgery to give them beaming smiles. The team is collecting donations at 100smiles.org, and their website provides continuous updates on the number of smiles they have helped to become a reality.

–Tanya Sturgis, student writer, Office of Public and Media Relations

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