Here at Northeastern there are hundreds of great student organizations to get involved in! We want to highlight some organizations that you may not know, so we’re interviewing members of student organizations to learn a little bit about them and what their club is about. Tune in every week for a new post from The Club Chronicle! 

The Club Chronicle Interview #26: Operation Smile 

This interview was conducted in November of 2019 

Can you tell me about yourself and Operation Smile?

My name is Kayla, I’m a bioengineering major and I’m a fourth year. I got involved with Operation Smile in my freshman year and I ended up becoming president my second year. Operation smile is an international medical brigade focused on bringing doctors to nations with children in need, typically where they don’t have access to safe and effective medical care for conditions such as cleft lip/palate. What we do at Northeastern specifically is work to advocate for the cause. We also try our best to fundraise, and we typically fundraise enough for about 4surgeries. We’re looking to increase that this year. The surgeries typically cost as low as$240 but the amount is covered by Operation Smile so the surgeries come at no cost to the family or children. In other words, Operation smile absorbs the cost and the doctors work at a reduced rate through Operation Smile. As I mentioned, our main pillars at Northeastern are advocacy and fundraising. So we do different fundraisers throughout the year but we also work on advocating for these children and we also work on our own smaller missions at Northeastern. We’re actually enacting a new initiative called smile Saturdays where we’ll be highlighting members of our club to show off our smiles. All we want to do is spread smiles whether that be to the children in need or to people on campus. Actually last year on Valentine’s Day we handed out free roses to help spread smiles. We have relaxing and fun meetings where we work together to come up with different initiatives and events on camps to spread happiness and awareness at the same time. 

You mentioned having different initiatives on campus, can you talk about what those are?

Our main initiative right now would be smile Saturdays. We’re taking to our social media to be able to spread more happiness. It’s difficult sometimes, especially when it comes to midterms and finals, when everyone is walking around stressed and down. We really just want to be a part of spreading smiles. Other initiatives were the Valentine’s day event that I mentioned as well as other holiday themed initiatives.. We’re kickstarting a few new ones next semester, including club bonding. For instance, we are planning a trip for us to go rock climbing as a group and to have a breakfast for dinner event, both in January. 

How do you go about fundraising?

Fundraising is a bit of a difficult topic for us. Not only is this kind of a niche subject but it is also a niche club, so we’ve had difficulty retaining members. To combat that this year we enacted the position of membership coordinators to try to help retain members. We also have event coordinators working with Eboard to create events that are both available and desirable. It plays into helping others and also giving the Northeastern community a reason to come together and to bond over a great cause. We do a lot of tabling events to fundraise. We’re starting a program where we’ll table for holidays to keep up holiday spirit. We have 2 main fundraisers in the Fall. One is an Art show, where we have students and community members from Boston submit any and all pieces of art. We get all of those submitted then we host an art auction. We have a walk through event where people can come in to look at the art and choose if they want to buy it. We typically send the profits to Operation Smile. The fundraising that we do around the holidays that I mentioned before is used for sustaining the club. The art show is the main source of revenue for sending donations to the larger organization of Operation Smile. We also had a comedy show this year, which was more for awareness. We’re working on different fundraising events for the upcoming semester, like starting up a smile walk. It’s similar to relay for life but much smaller scale. Next semester there’s a lot coming up. We’ll be hosting a speaker panel that might be ticketed, so that way we can fundraise and give people the chance to learn about our mission and medical professions in general. We’re looking into hosting networking events, possibly a gala in the near future, to have people from dentistry groups, the International Medical Brigade, all types of medical groups come together to break the ice between different groups. For clarification, Northeastern does not allow fundraising through ticketing if it’s supported by the Student Activity Fee. I just want to mention that any ticketing we do would not be funded by the Student Activity Fee. 

You mentioned having a social media campaign, what are those accounts?

It’s Operationsmileneu, we have a Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. We added a PR chair this year, so we’re more present on social media. 

Photo from a club meeting 

How long has Operation Smile been on campus for?

It has been around for about 6 years now.  It’s a relatively new club to campus. For many semesters we’ve run into some issues with reaching out to the community, but we’ve been able to partner with other groups to work together to promote our clubs and host great events. That happened with our improv comedy show. We worked with NU and Improv’d and they hosted an improv show, let us table, and gave us a shout out. It was a nice collaborative event. We chose to reach out to them because they make people laugh and smile and that’s part of our mission. 

Do you meet regularly? If so, when and where?

We meet every Thursday in 311 Ell at 6pm. Meetings are 30 minutes typically, but if we have a speaker it can run to 7:00 pm. We’re having a longer meeting this coming week actually. Our chapter rep is coming to introduce the topic of the new club standards enacted by Operation Smile. 

How can students get involved in Operation Smile?

You can get involved in a variety of ways and we have many different positions people can apply for. There’s the president, vice president, various media and marketing positions like the marketing chair.There’s the membership chair, the outreach chair, and event coordinators. Those are just a few examples of positions we have. You can also just come to the weekly meetings. At meetings we go through events we put on and reflect on them and then talk about what’s coming in the future, all while participating in fun activities. That’s the best way to stay involved. Alternatively we have people who can’t come to meetings, but they reach out to us through our email. We send out weekly emails from operationsmilenue@gmail.com. Those emails include a summary of meetings and links you could use to stay involved. That’s how a couple of people who are abroad or in a different states stay involved. We also look for people who want to do one off things like tabling. We also are looking for people to volunteer at our events to staff them. We have different opportunities and you can come weekly biweekly monthly or every now and then. 

Photo from the Step-Up Symposium this past month at Operation Smile Headquarters in Virginia Beach, Virginia. 

How many students are involved in Operation Smile? 

We just submitted our roster with about 30 people. We have 200 people on our email list but our roster is our active membership. That increased from 10 to 30. You don’t have to be active to participate in our events. We have about 40 to 45 people who aren’t official active members.

What is your favorite event you’ve done?

The art show. I have submitted pieces in the past. I’m not really an artist but it’s fun to see people come in from different majors looking to contribute to Operation Smile in a positive way and experiencing an art show when they aren’t used to that kind of thing. I love seeing people come in and look at the art. It’s also a great opportunity to talk about Operation Smile. That’s also something that was enacted by our original founders and we love to be able to continue that tradition. No matter how large we get or how much the club changes we want to keep that tradition because it’s our main source of fundraising. 

What’s one thing you wished people knew about Operation Smile?

It doesn’t have to be intimidating as a niche subject. A lot of people come into it thinking you have to have prior experience or it’s too specific. We’re just a relaxed group of people who come together to try to make a difference through fundraising and advocacy. 

What is your favorite part about Operation Smile?

Watching it grow over the years. I’ve been here almost since its founding. I’ve taken over the role of President since my 2nd year and it’s been so interesting to see what can happen to a club over the course of years and see how it can change. I’m personally excited to see what happens especially in the near future. We have a lot of motivated and dedicated members.