Julia, a patient at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Boston, is using her experiences to engage with an entire community and help others from around the world. Born in China with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, Julia was adopted by a family from New Jersey when she was 3 years old. Through the generosity of an anonymous sponsor, Julia had a repair to her lip while in China, but her cleft palate remained open and very wide. Julia’s mom learned about Shriners Hospitals for Children through an adoption forum for cleft-affected children. The family soon discovered that Shriners Hospitals for Children accepts children, like Julia, who had not received treatment for open palates as babies. Once the family brought Julia home from China at the age of 31/2 years, they made their first appointment.
Julia’s initial evaluation at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Boston came in the summer of 2008. Julia’s mom notes that the staff at the Boston Shriners Hospital made Julia feel welcome and comfortable. Julia loved exploring the playrooms and eating the food. The staff has found Julia to be a model patient, and the surgeries have helped her gain confidence, improve her speech and blossom into a beautiful young adult. Julia’s mom mentions, “The staff was so accommodating and friendly and helped ease what could have been a very frightening experience for a child who didn’t yet understand English and had difficulty speaking.”
When thinking about the family’s experience with Shriners Hospitals for Children — Boston, Julia’s mom notes says, “Between letting the family stay at the hospital when there wasn’t a hotel room to be found, to always having a smile on their faces, the staff at Shriners has been friendly, patient, caring and helpful. The doctors, nurses, therapists, cafeteria staff, office staff and volunteers have gone out of their way to make our whole family, including her younger sister, feel comfortable during our time in Boston.”
Now heading into the eighth grade, Julia is connecting with her community and helping children with similar experiences from all over the world. Julia runs the “Julia's Weixiao (Smile) Project” through Love Without Boundaries, an organization dedicated to providing 'hope and healing to orphaned and vulnerable children, and their underserved communities, through its education, nutrition, medical, and foster care programs.' Her project is now in its third year, and has raised thousands of dollars to help sponsor cleft lip and palate surgeries for four patients from across the globe who are not able to travel to places like Shriners Hospitals for Children where care is provided regardless of the families’ ability to pay.
We sat down with Julia to learn more about the Smile Project and how she is using her own experiences to help other children receive care.
What inspired you to get involved with Love Without Boundaries?
"I originally started with Love Without Boundaries as part of a school project, then continued the project as something I wanted to work on. It’s now on its third year, and is a great way to help kids like me. I don’t know who sponsored my surgery when I was a baby in China, but I would have liked to have known who helped me."
Can you tell us about your Smile Project”?
"This project has allowed me to sponsor the surgeries for four other kids so far, and has allowed me to give back in the way someone gave to me. The project started by sponsoring surgeries for Ray and Omar (who were only 6 months old and living in Chinese orphanages). Then, we sponsored Henry and more recently, a 16-year-old boy. They have my information in the file. It would be nice if they were able to know who helped them with their surgeries and connect with me, just like I would have liked to have known who helped me."
How did you raise the money?
"I have been able to do a lot of the fundraising by selling candy at local sporting events. As an athlete, I play basketball, soccer, field hockey and (formerly) swimming, and was able to do some fundraising through these teams. I reached out to faculty advisors and staff to connect with my school community. I also use social media, including my Facebook page. Love Without Boundaries even helped to put my information on their website as a blog, so I was able to reach out to large numbers of people that way. Originally, we found sales on the large bags of candy at stores, and were able to sell the candy at games. Selling the candy alone raises over $1,000 each year."
How did you decide on the name “The Smile Project?”
"My main goal for the project is to help other kids have a beautiful smile. I thought that name would be a clever way to include my goal for the overall project."
Do you think you would like to continue Love Without Boundaries in future years and if so, what are your goals for the Smile Project?
"I definitely want to continue the project in future years. My goal is to expand the Smile Project, and reach out to bigger groups. I would like to gain more publicity for the project, increase the following on Facebook and encourage larger organizations to help with the project."
Julia continues to work hard on the Smile Project and “pay it forward” for all of the help and care she has received.