By Jillian Fay | 1/31/14 3:11 PM
Every three minutes a child is born with a cleft palate, and one in 10 of those children will die before their first birthday. The children who do survive often are unable to eat, speak, socialize or even smile, and end up shunned. Many parents, particularly in other countries, cannot afford to give their children the surgeries they need to live a productive life. When MLL veteran Chris Schiller learned these shocking statistics, he saw an opportunity to help those children and, in a unique way, grow the game of lacrosse.
The Hounds midfielder and father of three through his Southern Select Lacrosse camp partnered with an organization called Operation Smile to both raise money to support the cleft surgeries and grow the game of lacrosse internationally. Operation Smile provides safe, effective reconstructive surgery and related medical care for children born with facial deformities such as cleft lip and cleft palate. “Over the past three years we have been extremely proud of the growth of our camp and the dedication of our players to work hard to play lacrosse at the collegiate level,” said Schiller. “This is a way to give back and grow this sport in a way that is a little unconventional.”
Schiller’s original goal was to raise $5,000 through private fundraising, with Southern Select then matching that gift for a total of $10,000. However, when the final numbers rolled in, Schiller and his group smashed that goal, raising a total of $17,865. With a cleft palate surgery costing approximately $240 each, Operation Smile will be able to put 74 children in to operating rooms and change their lives forever.
“I never want to just collect money from people,” said Schiller. “I want it to be something (the donors) can be proud of themselves for, and not just give because it’s lacrosse or because their son went to my camp. I want each person to believe in what they were giving to. A lot of time people give money to organizations and they have no idea where that money goes. I believe in giving money where you truly see the impact and every dollar that you send in is going to something, and that’s why I love this cause.”
The fundraising campaign ran for a full year, beginning Jan. 1, 2013 and ending Dec. 31, 2013. Schiller said he had basically three phases to his outreach, which included participants of Southern Select, the Charlotte Hounds and nationwide lacrosse community, and his own personal friends and contacts. “The first couple months were gangbusters,” said Schiller. “I think that’s where we raised the most money. Then little waves would start coming in after different avenues heard about it and/or published articles written about the cause. Between all three it was just a fantastic result.”
Schiller tracked the donations daily, and said once the account got over $5,000 “I was starting to get excited because I knew we were going to blow that number out.” But he never could have imagined that the total would reach $17,865. “I was astonished,” he said. “The final number was awesome, it felt great.”
Operation Smile and Schiller are now working out the details for his trip abroad to assist in the surgeries. The dates have been narrowed down to this spring -- either March, April or May -- while the location could be the Dominican Republic, Bolivia or Peru. The trip will last about a week long. The first two days are reserved for screenings to determine which children qualify for the operation, while the following two days Schiller will assist the medical staff in preparing the children for the actual surgeries.
Schiller’s hope is to split everyone that donated to the cause into teams, with each team receiving a child that they can follow through the process. “I am hoping to have these children send a personal photo or video, both before and after, with a little message or something to each team member so they can see the impact they’re having” he said. However, due to legal and privacy concerns, Schiller may not be able to focus on individual children, but does plan to document as much of his trip as possible. Additionally, Hounds equipment manager Jim Galloway and his company BrandRPM have graciously agreed to donate t-shirts for not only those who contributed to the fundraising but to all the kids going through surgery and their families as well.
The final aspect of Schiller’s outreach involves lacrosse. Southern Select had more than 250 sticks donated and he is going to try and get as many as possible down to the country where he will be serving. Shipping and logistics are a concern at this point, but Schiller said his “goal is to give as many sticks out to these kids as possible.” He added, “You grow the game however you can, but more importantly it’s about teaching them something new, teaching them a new sport.”
Schiller has a host of ideas for his trip, and is excited to work with Operation Smile on finalizing the details. It has been a long journey to get to this point, and Schiller couldn’t be more excited or proud to be a part of changing the lives for the better of so many kids. “People who have children or have children impact their lives realize how lucky we are to have healthy children, because there are so many people who aren't as fortunate,” he said. “This is just a way to be thankful for what we have.”