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Operation Smile at Western University and the Importance of Being a Volunteer 

Smiles are not just expressions – they are the universal symbol of joy and hope. Operation Smile’s mission to provide life-changing surgeries to children born with cleft conditions is vital in restoring their smiles and offering them opportunities for a brighter future.  

My journey with Operation Smile began in 2020, which was the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as my first year of university. With social distancing measures in place, I found it challenging to connect with others and wanted to find a way to get involved in my school’s community. I explored Western University’s club list and came across “Operation Smile Students’ Association.” At the time, I did not know much about Operation Smile, but I was interested in health care and volunteering, so I decided to attend their virtual information meeting. Immediately after attending the meeting, I knew I wanted to get involved.  

Operation Smile’s mission video stuck with me and inspired me to learn more about the cause. I applied to be a First-Year Representative on the Executive team, and soon became part of the team. Attending meetings and planning fundraising events became an exciting part of my weekly routine. I was able to support a cause I was truly enthusiastic about while surrounded by like-minded individuals who shared that same passion.  

Being part of the team has allowed me to form genuine friendships with fellow club members and cultivate a strong sense of community. I am now in my fourth year of university and have the privilege of leading the club as President.  

Over the years, our club has achieved significant accomplishments. The pandemic did not stop our club from fundraising. We planned online fundraisers in my first year, including Christmas bingo, a murder mystery event, a speakers’ night, and more.  

In my second year, we were able to do a hybrid model for events, where we partnered with a local frozen yogurt shop and donated all proceeds to Operation Smile.  

In my third year, we planned in-person events, such as a dodgeball tournament, workout classes, and a bar night.  

This year, we have hosted a coffee house “smile show” and a Christmas event where we had photos with Santa and wrote cards to Operation Smile patients.  

Most notably, we host a healthcare conference every year called ULEAD. The conference has a varying theme each year and consists of informative presentations from Operation Smile volunteers, as well as networking sessions, interactive activities, and opportunities for professional development. We have hosted this event in-person and online over the years and it is always a fun time.  

Our events have been successful because of the commitment of each member of our club. We reflect on past events to adapt strategies for future events with the goal of spreading awareness and raising funds.  

The team at Operation Smile inspires us to continue our work by providing us with feedback, ideas, and stories of our impact.  

Something that seems small-scale to us, like planning a fundraising event, changes a child’s life, and that is the reason we do what we do.  

Reflecting on the past four years, I can honestly say that Operation Smile has become an integral part of my undergraduate experience and an even larger part of my life. I plan to continue volunteering for Operation Smile well past my university career and look forward to continuing to help more children smile globally. 


About the Author: 

Klaudia Ivancic is a fourth-year student at Western University pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology. She has been volunteering with Operation Smile at Western for the last four years and has held various positions within the club, including First-Year Representative, Social Commissioner, VP Communications, and President.  



Partners and volunteers made this story possible. Thank you.