The Hollis Family’s Special Connection to Smiles

December 18, 2019 | Smile Train

When Stephen and Susan met at a Nashville YMCA in 2003, they immediately felt a special connection. Less than a year later, they were married. By their first anniversary, they had moved to Fort Mill, South Carolina and were ready to grow their family. They knew they wanted to adopt and braced themselves for what promised to be a long but ultimately rewarding process.

By spring 2005, they had found the right adoption agency and learned about what the agency called “waiting children” — those with special medical and emotional needs, including children born with clefts. As a former child life specialist, Susan was familiar with the condition and knew she and Stephen could provide a loving home for one of these vulnerable children.

Lily as a baby before her surgery.

One day, when Stephen went to Susan’s office to review photos of “waiting children,” Susan saw a picture of a little girl in China and immediately said, “That’s my daughter!” Stephen had felt a special connection to her too; he had requested her paperwork just before meeting with Susan.

A few months later, they were on a plane to China. After a few days of sightseeing, they were introduced to a sight they never wanted to stop seeing — their new daughter, Lily, and her beautiful smile.

Lily as a baby right after her surgery.

Lily’s paperwork said her cleft lip surgery was sponsored by a charity Susan and Stephen had never heard of — Smile Train. They did some research and the connection was again immediate. “We were so pleased that such an amazing organization had helped our sweet baby,” Susan said.

Lily as a child in America.

They knew Lily also had a cleft palate but didn’t know if it had also been treated. After many attempts to look at Lily’s palate by making her laugh, Susan emailed her questions to Smile Train. Less than 48 hours later, Lily’s medical records, including before and after pictures, arrived, along with a new Smile Train China backpack, t-shirt, and teddy bear — mementos Lily still keeps among her treasures.

Lily wearing a blue sequined dress, singing on stage.

Lily’s smile inspired the whole family. Her grandparents began giving to Smile Train regularly. Susan gives a smile each holiday season and starts a Facebook fundraiser each year for her birthday. “I try to create awareness about Smile Train and feel blessed to be able to help others who are in need,” Susan said. “We have benefitted so much from this organization and know the amazing impact it has on the lives of recipients and their families.”

Lily smiling, handling a snake.

Today, Lily is an ambitious, adventurous teenager who loves to dance and perform, and also dabbles in SCUBA diving, poetry, and snake handling. She loves math and science but dreams of becoming a comedienne because she knows the special connection a smile can create.


Join Susan, Stephen, and Lily in connecting the world through smiles with a gift to Smile Train.