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SALT LAKE CITY -- The founders of Operation Smile, an international charity organization, came to Salt Lake City Wednesday to receive a large donation. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has given $927,400 for medical missions in four countries.
Last year the volunteers with Operation Smile helped 16,000 children. They have a goal to double that number in the next five years.
Many Latter-day Saints have donated medical expertise, and teenagers have volunteered their time over the years. In fact, the Utah Chapter of Operation Smile is the longest-running in America, but Wednesday's gift marks a new level of giving.
In 60 countries throughout the world, on any given week, hundreds of volunteers with Operation Smile provide free surgeries to correct cleft lips and cleft palates. Most children with these birth defects cannot eat or speak well. They are shunned by their communities.
Wednesday, the founders accepted $927,400 from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Bill Magee, a plastic and craniofacial surgeon and Operation Smiles co-founder and CEO said, "We're really honored to be here. We've had the real honor and privilege of meeting so many of you. There is never one person who does it. The Church is a great example of that. What you do is you really extend your reach because of your masses, because of people with great hearts."
Bill and his wife, Kathy, a nurse and social worker created Operation Smile in 1982. They joined a medical mission to the Philippines at the last minute back then and witnessed the need in just one country and experienced the heartbreak at having to turn away so many.
Since then, their organization has changed the lives of more than 150,000 children. They continue to share the vision to transform medical care across the globe, and inspire teenagers who become volunteers along with the doctors and nurses.
Many Latter-day Saint Church members have participated over the years and now contributed to the large amount that will help that aid grow.
Fred Riley, the manager of Latter-day Saint Humanitarian Services Special Projects told reporters, "We're very grateful to the tens of thousands of members that have donated so freely so that projects such as these with Operation Smile can go forward."
He told the audience, "Often at night, we all or many of us, kneel to pray and ask for things we believe will never happen. And three organizations such as Operation Smile, literally, that guiding influence can come to pass through their angelic hands to bring these blessings to pass. We are so grateful for what they have done."
Michael Nebeker, an Operation Smile Utah Board member said, "We are honored to join a partnership with this fine Church and together work toward the relief of thousands of children in the world we live in."
The Church donation will go toward medical missions in nations with existing humanitarian projects: Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt and Jordan. The partner doctors in Jordan now have a medical center for treating their own children and those from neighboring countries.
Kathy Magee said, "With this center now, we've been bringing in Iraqi children, hundreds of them, and the Iraqi doctors to continue to train them. Jordan has been a real center for us and this, the church donation, will be a huge help for us to have this backing."
According to Operation Smile, it is estimated that in those four countries, more than 11,600 children are born each year with a cleft condition. Globally, every 3 minutes, it is estimated that a child is born with a cleft condition.
The Magees said Wednesday that there are still many ways to help. If you are interested in a medical mission as a professional or a student, visit Operation Smile.