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Millarville teen in search of smiles

Thirteen-year-old Alyssa Sanden is requesting smiling selfies from the public to raise money for Alliance for Smiles, which offers free surgery to children with cleft lips and palates in developing countries.
Alyssa Sanden
Alyssa Sanden on one of many hikes with her grandmother Linda Rae. (Photo Submitted)

MILLARVILLE - A 13-year-old girl is giving people plenty to smile about.

Alyssa Sanden is putting a call out to the public to Tweet or email her their smiling selfies in a fundraising initiative she created called Smile Because You Can to raise awareness and money for Alliance for Smiles.

Alliance for Smiles - founded in 2004 by six San Francisco Rotary Club members - sends medical teams to developing countries to perform corrective surgery on babies and children with cleft lips and palates.

“It’s done in remote locations where there’s no access to facilities to fix cleft lips and palates,” said Sanden. “As babies they can struggle with drinking and swallowing. It’s always amazed me that a simple surgery that takes one hour would change people’s lives infinitely.”

For every smiling selfie Sanden receives through Smile Because You Can, Calgary’s Concept Dentistry has agreed to donate 50 cents to Alliance for Smiles.

“I emailed every oral hygiene company I could find on the first 40 pages of Amazon across Alberta,” said Sanden. In the end, it was her own dentist who stepped up to sponsor her campaign.

Sanden hopes to receive 10,000 selfies to raise $5,000 - the equivalent of five surgeries.

Sanden learned about Alliance for Smiles through her grandmother Linda Rae, a Calgary operating room nurse who attended 10 missions with the group over the past decade.

“Every year, Alliance for Smiles publishes a yearbook with all these pictures of babies and kids and thank you letters,” said Sanden. “It’s so incredible. I hope others are as touched by this as I am.”

Sanden chose the fundraiser as her exit program, a mandatory assignment for Millarville Community School students in their final year in the school.

“As a final hurrah for school we do a legacy project,” Sanden explained. “My grandma told me to pick something that matters to me and this is what I thought of. I always thought it was so amazing and I thought I would help. I always aim big – my grandma does, too.”

Sanden said she’s always admired her grandmother for the work she’s done with Alliance for Smiles.

“I’m excited that I can honour my grandma and that I can make a difference in this world,” she said. “I just love the idea that a simple one-hour surgery is an infinite life-changer.”

Because Rae was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, last year might have been her final Alliance for Smiles mission, yet Sanden aims to keep the momentum going while remaining in awe of her grandmother.

“The life she’s led is one I would like to take an example of,” the teen said. “Although she’s sick I don’t think she’d trade that life for anything.”

Rae learned about Alliance for Smiles through a co-worker and went overseas to help out. After Rae’s first mission, she was hooked.

“I told Alyssa it’s not often we get to be part of a miracle and going on these missions is truly miracle-making,” she said. “I think it’s really important to realize that everybody, no matter how old they are, can make a difference in the world.”

While overseas, medical professionals volunteer their time to perform as many surgeries as they can through Alliance for Smiles, striving to make a difference in the life of each child they touch.

“In some cultures they’re shunned and ostracized and not allowed to live in the villages,” Rae said. “This changes their life. All of a sudden when they grow up they’re able to finish school, find employment and find a mate. It’s life altering.”

Rae was the first person Sanden told about Smile Because You Can, and Rae said she’s humbled by her granddaughter’s initiative.

“I was just honoured, I really was,” she said. “It makes me realize that she values me and she was inspired by what we do. Alyssa is just an amazing little lady and goes way beyond what you would expect of someone her age.”

To help raise money for Smile Because You Can, send your smiling selfie to Twitter at #sbyc or email it to

To learn more about Alliance for Smiles go to



Tammy Rollie

About the Author: Tammy Rollie

Tammy Rollie is a staff reporter at and the Western Wheel newspaper, focusing on Wheel's West, local arts and culture and entertainment. For story tips contact
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