Wednesday, July 31, 2013

One Child, One Smile, One day at a Time.

Yesterday we heard from speaker Cory Ciochetti. A professor and business man, he dished out to our students a lot of valuable life advice. He asked everyone to be honest with ourselves. Are we good people? Can we even define what a good person is? Cory also talked a lot about character and integrity. He mentioned that integrity is “how you treat a person who can do nothing for you in return.” What a perfect introduction to today’s speaker, Maggie Doyne. Maggie left on a gap year trip just after she graduated high school. Like so many of our Operation Smile students, she “knew a lot about the things she was doing at school, but [she] didn’t know anything about who [she] was. After walking around a lot of Asia she stumbled upon a village in Nepal that changed her life. She started with just one child, and told herself if she could change their life, it would be enough. But like Maggie says so often, helping people is addicting and before she knew it she was the adoptive mother of around 40 children. She has built both the Kopila Valley home and then Kopila Valley School. Every year she receives between 600-800 applications for her program. Can you imagine? All of those children are so desperately trying to get an education, and yet in American schools we constantly sit around complaining about having to go to class and do homework. Going to school is a privilege that most of the world does not have even though it is proven that better and more education leads to so many advantages, especially for young girls. I think that we could all take a very important lesson from Maggie. Getting an education can be the start of something incredible for so many kids in the world today, whether they live in New York or Kenya or Nepal. So many people feel that unless they create a giant movement that changes the lives of millions, it is a failure. We need to change our thinking to believe that changing the life of one child is enough, because like Maggie said it is. Changing the life of one child can start a chain reaction. We have a responsibility to change the world. Like Cory Ciochetti mentioned yesterday, we have no right to come into this world and leave it the way we found it. It is no longer acceptable for us to be passive and hope for things to get better. As students we are the generation that is going to end poverty, bring more education, and change the world. So what if instead of complaining about going to school, we went out and built them? What if instead of waiting on someone else to do, we start changing the world, now, by ourselves? We can start with one child, one school, and one smile at a time. It takes just one moment to decide that you are going to make a difference, and then act upon it. Like Cory said, we have to fight for the things the matter and we can’t let people tell us “no” just because we are young. Maggie Doyne didn’t wait to make a difference and neither should you. Go out and ask for help from your friends, family, and strangers. Start a fundraiser, babysit, get a job waitressing and do whatever it takes to fund your dream of making a difference. Decide what you want to change and do it. Don't expect overnight results, because it can take time, but most importantly never give up. Even if its just one person you change, it will change forever. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

What a Beautiful Thing

I was observing my 3rd Mission Training workshop today when Dr. Ruben Ayala made me remember something very important. While addressing the MTW participants about cultural sensitivity he stated, “Obviously we all have many differences, but what is most beautiful are the things we have in common.” How true that is in the world of Operation Smile Student Programs. Student Program’s goal, especially during ISLC, is to bring out the parts of students that will help them connect to other students so that together, they can make an even bigger difference. By coming to the conference everyone already shows that they are passionate, driven, leaders who want to become more dedicated to making a change.  I actually wish there more places where we could put more young, brilliant minds in one area and get even more of their energy and ideas out into the world; and this is why. There always comes this moment at Mission Training and at ISLC when it suddenly no longer matters if you are from America, Ireland, Paraguay, India, or any of the 24 countries being represented this coming week. All of the participants seem to find a group of people who become their best friends even though 3 days ago they were strangers. Its all because they share an instant and unbelievably strong connection. This connection is formed from everyone’s “a-ha!” moment during the conference when they realize that every single person can make a difference starting now. In addition to being inspired by the guest speakers and their peer leaders, they start to inspire each other. Together, they put into action thoughts and ideas that the average person doesn’t dream they could do. Suddenly, students don’t group themselves by country, school, gender, or age, but see themselves as one powerful group of like-minded students who despite anyone who may have told them that they can’t, are on a mission to change forever. And Like Dr. Ayala said, that is a very beautiful thing. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

If You Follow All the Rules You Can Have All the Fun

Haven’t you ever heard the saying, “If you follow all the rules, you miss all the fun?” It pretty much applies to all aspects of life, except ISLC. If you don’t follow the rules here, you will definitely miss all the fun, because you will go home. The rules are not that hard to follow (especially because its only for 5 days).  You’ll hear more about them at the conference, but here are “The Big 5”:

1. No Weapons- I’m pretty sure this a no brainer. ISLC is a safe environment and there will always be security guards on campus that are protecting you. We don’t need you to protect anyone.
2. No Bodily Harm to Yourself or Others- If you throw a punch, were throwing you out. What are you even going to fight about? If you have an issue, please talk to your ELC, CC, a staff member, or any adult at the conference and they will help you to find a solution.
3.No Theft- We get it. There are a lot of cool people coming from cool places across the world with a lot of cool things, but that’s what the Iparty is for. Purchasing from there will help fundraise for Operation Smile. Instead of trying to find a terrible way of saving your money, save yourself an expensive plane ticket back home. (For anyone who was in Beijing, time to give the chopsticks back).
4. No Drugs or Alcohol- Being on a college campus does not make you a college student. And it doesn’t make you 21. And even if you are 21, still no. It’s only 5 days, and we promise you’ll want to remember them.
5.No Cohabitation- See previous post on Conference Love. Or read this brief summary: If you feel like its breaking the rules, it probably is. Don’t make us embarrass you, because that would be one awkward phone call home to your parents. Just Don’t.

Student Programs is not here to be the fun police. However, we do have a responsibility to keep you all safe. We would never want to have to send someone home, but it only takes one bad decision. If we send you home, you won’t be able to make friends from different states. Then they won’t be able to visit you and bring you delicious salsa from New Mexico. And just thinking about that breaks my little heart. (Side Note: One of my best friends I’ve made through Operation Smile is here visiting before the conference and you guessed it, brought me delicious salsa from New Mexico. Shout out to Emilie Higgins and team Striped Hippos).  One week!

Can’t wait to meet y’all!
Bess and Emilie 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Oh the Places You Could Go...

This post goes out to all of you conference first timers wondering where you can go after these 5 days…
The answer is anywhere you believe you can. If you want to go on a mission, apply. If you want to become an ELC, apply. If you want to make a difference do it. I don’t know for sure if my time as an ELC or club president helped make anyone realize something “deeper within themselves”, but I do know that I have quite literally had the times of my life in a attempt to lead myself and others to Change Forever. (And here’s my story…)
            I can remember my first conference like it was yesterday. I was going to be a sophomore in high school and thought the idea of spending a week on a college campus (Christopher Newport University) sounded like the most fun I had ever had. For this reason I thought I was quite the big shot, surrounded by my fellow Norfolk Academy students I was ready to make best friends and memories that all of the students who had attended before had bragged about. Walking into check-in I was approached by two complete strangers who were swinging their arms asking if I wanted to play “Ninja”: and so began my descent into Operation Smile obsession.
            My ELC was Scott Schneider (Team Persia Represent). He was crazy, goofy, and passionate about helping each kid on our team be a leader as well as have a great time. We did some serious bonding and I learned every icebreaker known to mankind. There are quite a few people from that team I still talk to. It amazed me to look around and see the ELCs leading the conference were just a few years older than me. Then there were the kids who were just a year older talking about the mission they had just been given at mission training workshop. Mostly, the experience opened my eyes to how many opportunities Operation Smile offered its students.
            On the evening of the final party, I watched as some tear filled older students said goodbye to my ELC. I found it so fascinating in that just a few short days he had inspired so many people. I decided at that moment I was going to follow whatever path I had to take to become an ELC. If I could inspire just one kid to make a difference, then I would have really accomplished something. If one person was ever excited to be on my team, I would have made a difference.
            Since that day, I’ve been to 2 more conferences, Mission Training Workshop, spent two weeks in Kenya, A week in China, been a WELC and most importantly spent a year on the amazing Executive Leadership Council (a long side some of the ELC who originally inspired me to become a leader). None of these experiences would have been possible without Operation Smile and their belief in me that inspired me to believe in myself.   
For those of you who I haven’t already met, my name is Bess Preddy and I am the one whose been working on this blog for the conference. I’m going to be a sophomore at James Madison University in the fall and I thought now might be a good time to introduce myself. Even though I have been involved with Operation Smile since I was in middle school, I still find it hard to believe this is going to be my 5th conference but I am so excited to be apart of it once again.
Here’s to hoping that this week is just the beginning of as amazing a journey for you with Operation Smile as my first conference was for me.
I can’t wait to meet and see all of you in just a few weeks! You might just be my next blog post…

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Conference Do's and Don'ts

With less than three weeks until the conference, ELC and Staff are being asked a lot of really important questions. We decided it would be best to break it down for you so that everyone gets the info they need in one easy place. Covering every thing from your packing list to falling in conference love, you don’t want to miss these Do’s and Don’ts for ISLC 2013:

DO: Have a Positive Attitude and Branch Out
This is a week that could change your life if you let it. There is nothing that could make this bad unless you tried. As Wade would say “put your butt on the line.” Be yourself and make friends. If you put in just a little bit of effort, you’ll see that everyone is there for two reasons 1. To learn how to make a difference and 2. Make new friends. For some people it may be a little scary to put them selves out there, but ISLC is the safest place to do it.

With all of that said…

 DON’T: Bring Your Parents
We know that for some of you, this may be your first time spending a week away from your rents. However, if you start feeling homesick spend your time getting involved at the conference, not trying to get ahold of your mom or dad. If the situation is reversed, and your parents are nervous about the week and trying to get in touch with you non-stop tell them another Operation Smile motto “No news in good news”. You are going to be SUPER busy during the week, and may not have time to call home every night. It just means you’re having the ultimate conference experience!

Do: Make A Lot of Memories
Take pictures. Tons of pictures! At Iparty, at team games, at final party. They are great way to remember your friends, especially the friends you’ll make from foreign countries. Take them with any of the speakers you might get to meet after their presentations. You won’t want to forget a minute of the conference.


DON’T: Be Attached to Your Phone
Do not be taking these pictures during the presentation. And especially do not be on your phone during the speakers. These people have traveled far to come tell you important stories and inspire you on your personal journey of making a difference. You DO NOT want to be that kid whose phone goes off playing “Come and Get It” in a dead silent room, because that would be rude, and a tad awkward.

Do: Get Close with Your Team
Everyone on your team has a different background. There is wealth of knowledge and inspiration that you could gain from just getting to know the people that you’ll  be spending most of your time with that week anyways. You could make some best friends by just taking the time to hear another teammates story. Also get to know your ELC. They have been where you are and know any of the struggles you might be having. After the conference, they could be a great resource for help with your club or region. Put yourselves out there and you could make some connections that lead to important relationships in your life or a long time after.


DON’T: Fall in Conference Love
Falling in conference love not only breaks the big 5, but has been to known to break a few hearts. This week is not about finding Mr. or Mrs. Perfect, its about learning how to make a difference. 4 days does not a relationship make. We encourage you to fall in love with Operation Smile and with ISLC, just don’t fall in love with each other.

We couldn’t be more excited to meet all of you just a short time from now. We hope this list clarifies some of the big questions you may have wanted to ask but were nervous too. If you ever have any other questions, your ELC would LOVE to hear from you. Just 19 days to go! Are you ready to Changeforever?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

All the Reasons We Love Operation Smile

Operation Smile’s ISLC is a unique experience for everyone who attends. What each person takes away from the conference depends on what they put in. Before they were leaders, each of our ELC and CC were a participant at the conference. During their time as a student, they all experienced something that made them want to come back for more and help be apart of making the conference happen.
This post is dedicated to all of the reasons we love ISLC and why we know all of you will love it too!
as the conference progresses you see new friendships formed, and old ones renewed. ISLC gives students the unique opportunity to put themselves out there and make lifelong friends.” – Emilie Higgins
She’s definitely right. By the end of the week there are always hugs and tears between students who just days before were complete strangers and lived on opposite sides of the world.
“[The best part is] meeting and creating friendships with other students who want to be the change! There is no place quite like ISLC if you are looking to connect with a group of like-minded high school and collegiate students are what to make a difference in this world. – Leanna Glass
Its true! At ISLC you will surrounded by people looking to make a difference themselves and encourgaging you to do the same. It is a place that everyone can fit in.
Hearing all the great speakers who have changed the world because it inspires me and makes me realize that young people can really make a difference!”  - Lulu
You don’t have to wait a single day to start making the world a better place.
[I love seeing all parts of the world at the Iparty] come together to raise money for the same cause. It brings us all together and we have so much fun doing it!”Catherine Vedovino
At the Iparty, students from different countries set up tables where they sell different cultural items. Its always fun for students to be able to go home with a bracelet or sweatshirt from a different country.  
And could not be a post about the favorite parts of the conference though if we didn’t mention team games. At the end of the week, all of the teams come together for some friendly but intense competition in games ranging from volleyball to pie eating and everything in between.
“My favorite part is watching a spark ignite within the hearts of all of our student leaders; they're passionate, outgoing visionaries, each with an immense heart. To rally these young adults, all from around the world, is a rare and beautiful unfolding of leadership, friendship, and service.” Haley Oberhofer
We hope that this week will be just the beginning of a commitment to service and leadership for you.
With just 27 days until this year’s conference, how will you changeforever?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Hey Everyone!

Welcome to the ISLC 2013 blog! With just 40 days to go until the conference, I hope everyone is just as excited as all the Student Programs staff are. Today's blog is a quick reminder of why we are involved with Operation Smile; to make a change in the lives of the children we work with. Two years ago, Operation Smile sent a team to Fortaleza, Brazil where they met Talita. Talita may have been young, but for many she was the highlight of the trip. Even before surgery, her smile was contagious. Dr. Chong, her surgeon, described the Talita's reaction to her surgery:

"She was sitting in her chair. Bright. Content. Wondering what the world would
 bring her that day, seemingly oblivious of what had happened the day before
.And what a lovely surprise would come her way. As the video camera I was holding
turned and a pretty little girl smiled back, her big brown eyes said it all: "Hey, is that me?"
The answer to her prayers. Her coin in the wishing well. Her dream fulfilled. I LOVED sharing
that day with her. And I loved sharing it with the millions of people who viewed her story on YouTube."

However, Operation Smile's work was not yet done. They returned to Fortaleza a year ago to fix the open palate in Talita's mouth, which was impairing her speech. The surgery was completed and once again Talita's world was transformed. She will finally be able to get the education and life she has dreamed of. Below is the video of Talita's transformation and her reuion with the doctors who helped change her life forever.
Help share this inspiring video by posting it to your facebook and twitter and making all your friends and family watch this amazing little girl!

Dr. Chong, in reference to his experience with Talita, expressed that "Perhaps that in an increasingly mad world, her story is a ray of hope that there is no greater purpose than helping one another." Operation Smile could not help children like her if it was not for dedicated students and volunteers like all of you. You all have the ability to take what you know and what you are good at and make a positive difference in this world. At ISLC, you will hear from speakers and leaders who we hope will inspire you to turn your passions into action and make the dreams of others into reality.

We are confident that after your week at ISLC 2013, you will be ready to help Operation Smile Changeforever.

Don't forget to follow us on twitter @ISLC_2013
See you all soon!
Student Programs