Senior Giving Back One Smile at a Time

Julia Rodriguez promoted her Save a Smile Club at SRV’s annual club fair.

If you have ever met Julia Rodriguez, it would make sense that she started the Save a Smile Club. One of this year’s homecoming princesses at San Ramon Valley High School and a friend to all, Julia is widely viewed on campus as a quality person, her club adding another layer to her personality.

Now a senior, Rodriguez was inspired to start a club freshman year, but didn’t know what she wanted to do until watching the movie Smile, which told of a teenage girl’s story of when she traveled to China and met a girl her same age that had a cleft lip. The film inspired her to delve deeper into what a cleft lip is and what it means to have it. Her research led her to the Operation Smile Organization.

Going into sophomore year, she was excited to spread awareness for this birth defect. She created the “Save a Smile Club,” giving it that title because it “had a nice ring to it,” Rodriguez says. At the first meeting two years ago, five students showed up. Now the club has expanded to more than 40 members.

Since the club began, Rodriguez has been in contact with Julie Brumana who is Operation Smile’s student program associate for the Western U.S. Region. Brumana helps make sure Rodriguez is raising money and awareness for cleft lip in the most efficient ways.

Rodriguez is also assisted by the school staff. She says Brian Botteen, varsity basketball coach and special-ed teacher, is especially helpful because he allows her club to hold bake sales-the main fundraiser for the club-at home basketball games.

Bake sales help with the club’s mission, which is to “save more lives every year,” Rodriguez says. One surgery costs $240, and last year during a bake sale the club members sold enough delicious treats to save one life. Over the span of the past two years, Save a Smile has raised money for seven children to undergo surgery.

These surgeries are imperative to a child’s survival because cleft lip can spread to a child’s eyes. It also causes malnutrition because swallowing and chewing is a difficult task for one to do with cleft lip.

Rodriguez has big plans. This year during club meetings members will write encouraging letters to children undergoing surgery as well as brainstorming fundraising ideas and ways to spread awareness. Last year members wrote letters that were sent to Ghana. Over 50 letters were sent out, and they included encouraging messages such as “You have a beautiful smile” and “Stay strong”.

Because Rodriguez is a senior, this may be the club’s last year. But she hopes to bring Save a Smile with her to college, and even wants to participate in a mission trip through Operation Smile to see how her club is helping people all over the world. But for now, she encourages SRV students to join the club to help save a smile.