Kiaya was born with a cleft palate that caused problems with her hearing, breathing, and, eventually, her speech. She received cleft palate surgery as an infant and then years of cleft-related treatments, including surgeries on her eardrum and jaw.
In 2016, Kiaya saw a television commercial about the disparity in cleft treatment options in low- and middle-income countries, and she wanted to help. Kiaya researched cleft organizations online to decide which one to support. Kiaya’s mom, Carrie, said, “Smile Train’s website explained that, by using local doctors, more of our donations would go directly to help children around the world.”
In March of that year, Kiaya held a painting party at her home to raise funds for Smile Train. Kiaya framed images of patients Smile Train has supported, and Carrie even ordered a specially decorated cake for the occasion. Kiaya’s guests received a blank canvas, paints, and Smile Train party favors. By night’s end, Kiaya had raised the funds for three children to receive cleft treatments.
One of the donors that evening was the family’s pastor and longtime friend, Andrew Brown, as his daughter was in attendance and is one of Kiaya’s best friends. Andrew was so impressed, that he made the offer that, if Kiaya could raise $5,000 or more, he’d shave off the beard he’d been growing for years. Kiaya wanted to wait for the perfect opportunity: “I kept his offer in my back pocket so long he thought I forgot,” she said.
In 2019, Kiaya saw that a Smile Train donor had offered to triple donations during a certain timeframe and that, if she could raise $5,000, it would have three times the impact. Kiaya approached Andrew with the idea that family and friends could donate funds to see his signature beard shaved. Andrew eventually agreed (against his wife’s protests, who said that she’d put on her own fundraiser to preserve the beard). So, even though Kiaya was only a few months away from her own double jaw surgery, she decided to organize her second Smile Train fundraiser.
When Kiaya’s fundraising page was released, donations from church members, family, and friends started pouring in – many with the hope of seeing Andrew’s face for the first time in years. When donations stalled, and the family was worried that they might not reach the goal, a local family generously donated $3,800, and then a local realtor paid for the exclusive rights to stream the beard shaving. They’d surpassed their goal.
In February, Andrew was true to his word and was shaven clean with dozens gleefully watching on Facebook Live. Carrie shared, “The beard was a part of Andrew’s identity, and it was a big deal for him to shave it. I think his big heart for helping children outweighed his love for his beard. He has been one of Kiaya’s biggest supporters and mentors for years. He is our pastor but, more importantly, he is our friend.”
After learning that she’d exceeded her fundraising goal, Kiaya said, “It felt so surreal, because I wasn’t sure we’d reach our goal. It filled my heart with happiness that these children (just like me) now have the resources to get treatment.” She had a message to her fundraising donors: “I want to thank everyone who donated – whether $5 or $3,800. There are so many ways you could have spent your money, but know that those funds will help children with clefts to lead fulfilling lives.”
If you would like to donate your birthday to Smile Train, just like Kiaya, check out the Get Involved section of our site.