Harlingen Medical Center to host ‘Celebration of Smiles’

HARLINGEN — Rio Grande Valley residents and families are invited to have a family portrait taken.

But while smiling for their own photo, they also will be helping a needy child with a cleft lip deformity to smile for the first time.

The unique “Celebration of Smiles” charity event will kick off at Harlingen Medical Center on Saturday, July 30, at 10 a.m.

The fundraiser is designed to provide free surgeries to underprivileged children in Mexico who were born with a cleft lip, a condition in which the child’s face is deformed between his or her mouth and nose.

These children — some of whom are now 5 or 6 years old or older — have lived with the condition all of their lives, because their families do not have the money to pay for surgery to correct the deformity.

The condition can lead to difficulty in eating, malnutrition, difficulty speaking, and low self-esteem.

Because these children look different from other kids in a very noticeable way, they are often subjected to ridicule and bullying.

“The surgery to correct cleft lip and cleft palate can literally change a child’s whole life, giving them what they need to succeed socially, in school, and elsewhere,” said Marian Bliss Blake, the photographer who will be taking the photos at the “Celebration of Smiles” charity event.

Blake is donating her time to take portraits of Rio Grande Valley families in order to raise money so children with cleft lip can have the surgery they need.

Families who would like to have their photo taken will receive a 20-minute photography session with Blake (with two backgrounds available), as well as a CD with three, fully-edited digital photos.

All proceeds will benefit a child needing the cleft lip surgery.

For an extra donation to the “Celebration of Smiles” event, Valley families or individuals can order high-quality prints of their photos, in various sizes and packages.

The kickoff ceremony is free and open to the community and will include speakers, educational information on cleft lip and cleft palate, refreshments, and a photo display of children who have been helped by cleft lip and cleft palate surgery.

The kickoff will take place in Harlingen Medical Center’s Medical Office Building Conference Room, on Saturday, July 30 from 10 a.m. to noon.