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Million Dollar Smiles

Featuring Anna Lopes, Founder & Director of Million Dollar Smiles

· disability,playground,playbeyondthelabel,special needs,gift giving

A friend once told me that smiling reduces stress that our bodies and minds feel, almost similar to getting a good night of sleep. Here’s a fun fact, did you know that on average, children smile 400 times a day? While happy people still smile 40-50 times a day, and the average of us only do so 20 times?

Well here’s something my family and I are smiling about… This past spring, Bella’s former physiotherapist Jennifer MacEachern submitted Bella’s name to an organization called Million Dollar Smiles as an applicant for the Summer Playground Build Program. And guess what… Bella and Petie were chosen as recipients for their very own playground!

Million Dollar Smiles (MDS) is a non-profit organization that provides support for families with children facing adversity from life threatening illnesses. This organization accomplishes this through a wide range of fundraising campaigns that enables MDS to fund gift-giving and special events targeted to children up to the age of 18. For this week’s blog post I will be sharing my interview with Anna Lopes, who is the founder and director of MDS and our fun filled day with the MDS family.

MOM BEHIND THE LABEL: Can you tell us why you started this organization, and the value of the support you provide to children and their families who are living with disabilities and life threatening illnesses?

ANNA: Smiles manage to relieve stress and bring happiness to the heart of both the giver and receiver. Through gift giving and events geared to make available positive energy to those in need, our organization strives to make a difference and provide to the less fortunate with a reason to smile. I started MDS because I wanted to give back unconditionally and make a difference. With every smile given and received, our hearts get a little stronger and in return only brings true happiness. MDS is motivated to make a positive impact on families faced with great adversity – and the results thus far have cemented our dedication to the community.

MOM BEHIND THE LABEL: What does the word ‘community’ mean to you?

ANNA: Community means building a foundation of amazing earth-angels giving back. I believe that bringing people together to give back unconditionally is so powerful. A surprisingly wonderful by-product of starting MDS has been the amazing volunteer community that we have built! These volunteers are not just great because of their fundraising efforts but also because they really roll up their sleeves and get involved. Another key stakeholder in our MDS community are our sponsors. With their help, this summer we are able to gift 80-plus playgrounds to families who live with life threatening illnesses. I believe that in today’s world we are all rushing around trying to keep up with our many responsibilities and so often can take many small precious moments for granted. Taking the time to give and see the results of those efforts is a huge gift. These simple moments can instantly make our lives a little brighter and richer.

MOM BEHIND THE LABEL: In 2015, our family was a recipient for your Bear Hug Program. We were surprised by another MDS family who gifted Bella a 4-foot teddy bear along with a gift certificate to Toys R Us. I was most impressed when our son Petie received a bear too! We were so grateful for this special delivery during the holiday season.

Can you tell us about the importance of the gift of giving and why MDS strives to go above and beyond to bring smiles to children and their families?

ANNA: A lot of the time families may go through many hurdles. If MDS can make one day magical that’s what we love to do. We love to spread joy and happiness to the family and want them to know that even strangers are willing to support and give love. MDS seizes the opportunity to make a difference in the community during the Christmas season – but people are facing adversity in their lives all year round. One of our most successful programs is our Bear Hug Program. Every Christmas over 200 volunteers take time out during the busy holiday season to help us deliver 4-foot Teddy Bears (each with $100 Toys R Us gift certificates) to children around Toronto and area. Each year we continue to surpass our goals of delivering smiles and hugs to our special MDS children during the important holiday season.

MOM BEHIND THE LABEL: What are the challenges your organization faces?

ANNA: Challenges are always funding so we can build more playgrounds out of town so we can build bigger communities. We are also always looking for sponsors to support our organization. In this era corporations are expected to embrace their corporate social awareness and their associated impact upon their community. MDS offers corporations a proactive approach to promote the growth and development of their community. Giving back to the community also represents a good marketing opportunity for corporations by providing:

  • Tangible benefit to the public which supports your corporation.
  • Helps build your community.

  • Great Public Relations for the corporation.

  • Strengthens the corporation’s brand.

  • Differentiate your corporation from your competition.

  • Networking within the community exposes your corporation to people who might not run in your corporation’s industry circles.

MDS assures the corporation’s contributions will reward a family in need in their very own community. If you are a corporation who would like to sponsor a playground, please click here!

MOM BEHIND THE LABEL: What are the joys that this organization brings to you, and the families you support?

ANNA: Creating the magical smiles means the world to me. It is amazing when a group of volunteers and sponsors give their time and pay it forward to another family. With our gift giving programs like the Summer Playground Build and the Holiday Bear Drive, we are continually reaching out to children and adults that are in need of some smiles to warm their hearts.

MOM BEHIND THE LABEL: How can my #MomBehindTheLabel readers support the work MDS does?

ANNA: In today’s fast paced world, people are preoccupied with their careers, family and extracurricular activities that they often forget to appreciate the simple things in life. However, some people do not have the luxury of time to take things for granted – and a simple hug, or a simple smile helps ease their pain.

  • By donating through our Sponsorship Program, all the money raised will go toward the Bear Hug Program. With your help, Million Dollar Smiles will deliver 250 Bear Hugs to the families within our community. A family in need of enriched spirits will be chosen to receive a Bear Hug and volunteers will spend time offering their contributions to make a family forget about their adversity for an afternoon and beyond.
  • We also invite you to support MDS by planning a fundraiser of your own. Some of our popular fundraising events include: lemonade stands, car wash, garage sales, and event walk-a-thons! If you would like to plan a fundraiser and contribute the proceeds to MDS, please click here.

  • Our volunteers are the backbone of our organization, and there is a reason we call them Smile Angels. Their valiant efforts allow us to bring countless smiles to our MDS children and families. Each of our Smile Angels contributes in their own special way. Whether it’s arriving early on a Saturday morning to help build a playground, contributing to our fundraising efforts or volunteering at an event, our volunteers always show up with a smile and the willingness to contribute. To join our Smiles Angels team, click here.

  • MDS also invites you to refer a child to our programs. If you know of a child that is suffering from an illness and believe the family would like our support, or if you are a family member requesting support, please click here.

Thank you Anna for taking the time to contribute to this blog post. My family and I are extremely thankful for the wonderful gift MDS has given to us. Play is a huge part of what I believe all children should experience, and now we have our very own playground!

Thank you to Jennifer MacEachern for always hustlin’ for Bella to ensure that she gets all the support and resources she needs. Thank you to Jackie Sultana from MDS, who called me that evening to share that we were chosen to receive this playground (yes… it was hard to keep this secret quiet for a few months). And a HUGE thanks to Summer, Vicki, and the 15 MDS volunteers from the Bank of Montreal who worked for 6 continuous hours to build Bella and Petie’s playground.

Here is the video I created to remember this special day with MDS. This video will serve as a reminder for myself that I have so much to be happy for.

~ Not because everything is good, but because I can see the good in everything that life brings. ~

“My greatest pleasure of being an MDS volunteer is the amazing feeling I get in my heart when I see the child’s face upon seeing their playground in their own backyard. Nothing is more gratifying than to know that from giving just a little bit of my time we made a special child SMILE.”

Vicki Arciero, MDS volunteer

“Seeing the million dollar smile on the child’s face when they see the playground structure makes all the hard work and sweat so worth it!”

Andrew Gouw, MDS volunteer

“It was a great opportunity to focus on someone else’s needs and be able to give my time.Such a feel-good experience!”

Greg Bonhomme, MDS Volunteer

“The best part and the greatest pleasure is seeing a huge smile on the child’s face and the joy in their eyes. It is truly the most rewarding experience! The whole day is worth it if the child is happy! I look forward to the playground build every year!”

Jelena Choonoo, MDS Volunteer

“It felt amazing working together to bring joy to someone else! Taking the opportunity to make someone smile is always worth the effort.”

Lindsay Barwise, MDS Volunteer

“I feel blessed to be able to participate in the Build and to be a part of the MDS family.”

Heather Rashotte, MDS Volunteer

“To be able to connect with friends, colleagues all while doing good for a family…. Life doesn’t get much better. Thank you for letting us all be apart of a fantastic day.”

Michael Hayes, MDS Volunteer

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