Bigger and Better: Cleft Proud, Peoria Proud 2022

What’s stronger than a cleft mom? Six cleft moms

Between late 2019 and the spring of 2020, something extraordinary happened in the Midwest: Four women who went to school together in Peoria, IL — Molly Fiddes, Lyndsay Mentgen, Molly Reeser, and Evanne Ihnken — each gave birth to a boy with a cleft.

And each thought she was all alone. It wasn’t until they turned to social media for answers, catharsis, community that they found all those things and more in one another.

“This group of moms is something that I will never take for granted. They truly are the reason that I am so proud of our journey, and I survived the journey.”

– Molly Fiddes

Even while living under lockdown with infants at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the moms quickly came to realize just how absurdly lucky they were: Not only did they have each other when so many other cleft-affected families don’t have anyone else to relate to, they also had access to top-quality cleft care and good insurance to help pay for it.

In their incredible blessing, they saw an incredible obligation to be a blessing. So they joined with Erin Chan, another cleft mom they knew from school, and planned a party that would celebrate their boys and raise funds for Smile Train as soon as circumstances allowed.

The moms’ plans grew more and more ambitious as the pandemic wore on: there would be cookie decorating, balloon sculptures, a silent auction, and so much more. They wondered if they had gotten a little too ahead of themselves, but there was no going back. On July 10, 2021, their Cleft Proud, Peoria Proud event came to life.

Eager to come together again and support a good cause, the whole city showed up, even in the rain. At the end of a night of food, drink, games, laughter, puddles, and countless smiles, an event they at first hoped would raise even $1,000 for Smile Train raised more than $25,000!

The lesson was clear: Next year, they had to go even bigger.

With a year to plan and the addition of Lisa Faulkner, mother of Olive, a baby girl with a cleft, they went all-out for 2022’s event.

When the big day came, Peoria went all-out, too, and raised another $35,000+ for Smile Train in honor of these six extraordinary families and the global cleft community!

Looking back on the support they have received from family and community and community that has become family, the moms agree that raising more than $60,000 still feels like the least they can do. They are already planning to go bigger still next year.

“If someone can’t get the help they need just because of money, that is something we can do something about,” said Lisa. “I can’t go and perform surgery, but I can put together something to help raise money for that surgery. That is something that I can do here in Peoria, Illinois that can impact somebody across the globe.”

As Molly Reeser put it, “I think we took something that a lot of people could have bottled up inside and not wanted to share, and we turned it into something really good that we hope our kids are very proud of one day.”

No cleft mother should ever feel alone. You can bring cleft treatment and community to families in need in 70+ countries.

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