Last April, a group led by PennWest Clarion’s Club Smile embarked on a walk around campus that was less than a mile in distance. The walk – dubbed A Small Walk for Big Smiles – produced life-altering results: The $1,540 raised provided repair surgery for six children born with cleft lip or palate.

Cleft lip and cleft palate are facial differences that can impact a child's ability to eat, swallow, speak and more. This birth defect occurs in one of every 600 children across the world. Each surgery costs about $240. Club Smile, which works in conjunction with the global nonprofit Operation Smile, is an advocacy and fundraising organization that supports these individuals.

This year’s Small Walk for Big Smiles begins at 1 p.m. April 21 at the Keeling Speech and Hearing Clinic. The route goes past Eagle Commons, turns left at Becht Hall, loops around the campus apple, then passes Gemmell to return to Keeling.

“It truly is a small walk,” said Club Smile president Michaela Armanini.

Participants can pre-register and pay the walk’s $5 admission fee through Venmo via the preregistration link on the website, or pay in person with cash, check or credit card the day of the walk. Tickets will be sold for a 50/50 drawing and for themed baskets donated by PennWest Clarion clubs and sororities. So far, the themes include spa/self-care, everything but the ice-cream, baking, sunshine (yellow themed), movie night, a homemade blanket, books, lottery tree, and coffee/tea. Donations of baskets are still being accepted.

In addition to the walk, Club Smile is offering two more fundraisers through partnerships with local businesses.

Through March 25, orders for Club Smile T-shirts and hoodies will be taken through local business All American HQ, Shippenville. To order, visit Orders can be delivered or picked up at All American HQ. Anyone wearing the Club Smile shirt will receive a $3 discount on registration for this year’s Small Walk for Big Smiles.

In March, Clarion restaurant Daddy’s Main Street is donating a portion of the proceeds from the sale of burgers to Club Smile. The restaurant will also sell purple ribbons that will be placed on the restaurant wall.

Kenn Staub, faculty advisor of Club Smile since 2016, estimates that the annual walk and other fundraising events have produced nearly $20,000 in the organization’s 10 years at Clarion. Club Smile donates 100 percent of the money raised to pay for cleft lip and palate repair surgeries through Operation Smile.

PennWest Clarion's Club Smile membership comprises students of various majors, predominantly speech pathology, nursing and education. Armanini said she is proud of the diversity of student involvement.

“The cleft lip/palate team is multidisciplinary and works as a team throughout the lifespan,” she said. “Surgeons of multiple disciplines, nurses, speech-language pathologists, audiologists, social workers, therapists and dentists collaborate on care.”

“Because of the unique needs of children with cleft lips and/or palates, no one professional has the skills or abilities to exclusively provide the services which will be required, typically at regular intervals across the lifespan,” Staub said. “For students entering disciplines/professions that might one day work with or provide education to children and families with cleft lip/palate, any opportunity for them to become involved, particularly as they embark upon their careers, could prove invaluable.”