MINNEAPOLIS -- Kim Valentini is changing the world, literally, one smile at a time. She's the founder of Smile Network International, an organization that provides cleft palate repair and other facial surgeries for impoverished children.
"They never go to school, never have families, first kiss, never get married, we change it all for a surgery that costs us $500," Valentini says.
Kim started Smile network in 2003, after spending decades in the PR, marketing, and restaurant industries. It was a mid-life leap of faith that took even her by surprise.
"I wanted to pursue my love of photography, travel more, open an art gallery, do a 5 hour a week service project," she said. "5 hours turned into 55 hours quickly and has become a lifestyle."
She started with a scouting trip to Mexico and never looked back. Kim now oversees Smile Network missions 5-6 times a year. Doctors, medical and non-medical personnel all volunteer their time to travel to remote areas, from Africa to South America.
While the rewards are great, there are also challenges.
"The hardest part is turning children.. families away, always have twice as many kids at screening, operate on, the need is so much," Kim said.
And then there are the stories... like that of Sergio, from Guerrero, Mexico. He received his surgery nearly ten years ago. The once shy boy, is now known as the young man with the beautiful voice.
"There was something about his smile, his innocence," Valentini said. "Always tugged at my heart string. Remarkable man who will pay it forward."
As founder of Smile Network, Kim spearheads daily operations, including preparing for their biggest fundraiser of the year coming up this weekend.
An entrepreneurial spirit at heart, she's learned that the best way to lead is by example.
"You just have to jump and if the universe responds, it's what you 're meant to do and it all falls into place."
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