FRANKLIN LAKES — Teenagers at the public library are taking aim at one of the world’s most prevalent birth defects as part of a project to lift the spirits of children affected by it.
The Advisory Council for the Community by Teens for Teens is collecting donations until Wednesday, Dec. 21, to support Operation Smile, a nonprofit that provides free surgeries to children born with cleft lips and cleft palates.
Operation Smile has treated more than 200,000 children with clefts since its foundation in 1982. the charity maintains a presence in more than 60 countries.
Once the donations are collected, the group’s 24 members in Grades 6-12 will make “smile bags” and ship them to the charity’s headquarters in Norfolk, Va., from which they will be sent to children recovering from surgery.
Kathleen O’Hora, a borough resident and junior at DePaul Catholic High School in Wayne, organized the effort because, she said, a child with a cleft may have low self-esteem or be a target of bullying.
Kathleen said DePaul is collecting donations for the charity, too, and that the school and library are working in tandem to publicize the drive and solicit donations.
“We all really feel for them,” Kathleen said of the children affected by clefts at a group meeting last week. “It’s a charity everyone can relate to.”
It didn’t take much to get group members on board.
“We wanted to do it because we know some people may take it to heart because some of their own family members may have [a cleft] and because it is so common,” said Paulette Arnold, a seventh-grader at Franklin Avenue Middle School.
According to Operation Smile’s website, frequency of oral clefts is estimated to be one in 750 live births, making clefts the second most common congenital anomaly after clubfoot.
In addition to this drive, which group members consider their “global” project, the group is simultaneously working on a “local” project in which members are crafting holiday cards for children hospitalized at Tomorrows Children’s Institute at Hackensack University Medical Center.
And the group is always in search of new members.
“This is the most convenient way for teens to get in touch with their community,” said Alon Millet, an eighth-grader at Franklin Avenue Middle School. “There are not that many ways for people our age to get out there. [This] helps us get it together.”
Donations are being accepted in the library’s children’s room, 470 DeKorte Drive.