Smile Train’s 20th Anniversary Gala: It Starts with a Smile

May 3, 2019 | Smile Train

Smile Train celebrity supporters on red carpet

Professional athletes, stars of television and film, and #SmileMakers from around the world recently gathered for Smile Train’s 20th Anniversary Gala at New York City’s iconic Capitale with the common purpose of raising funds and awareness for children born with clefts.

Smile Train CEO Susannah Schaefer speaks to large gala crowd

To kick off the festivities, Smile Train’s President and CEO Susannah Schaefer shared with the crowd the meaning behind the event’s “It Starts with a Smile” theme:

“Reaching our 20th anniversary provides a great opportunity to focus on how Smile Train will continue to ensure that all children with clefts receive the quality care they deserve. We’ve learned that our patients’ journey to living a full, healthy, and productive life starts with a smile. Then, comprehensive treatments like nutrition programs, dental and orthodontic care, speech therapy, and social and emotional support are needed to give the patients we support the best possible outcomes.”

Smile Train patient Sofia three years after sugery

To help the audience visualize the comprehensive care journey, Smile Train shared a short film in which we caught up with a few of our former patients at various stages in their recovery — including the very first patient Smile Train supported, Wang Li, who is thriving with her family in China.

Television personality Graham Elliot accepts award

Next in the program, Gala attendees were introduced to the first recipient of the It Starts with a Smile award: critically acclaimed chef, restaurateur, and television personality Graham Elliot. In his remarks, Graham shared his journey of becoming a Smile Train supporter and advocate after his son Conrad was born with a cleft.

Miss Universe winners accepts award for Smile Train partnership

Then, Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach, and Miss USA 2015 Oliva Jordan, helped to honor Miss Universe Organization President Paula Shugart, who was a driving force behind her organization’s partnership with Smile Train and has brought increased awareness of the availability of Smile Train-supported cleft care through regional titleholders around the world.

Dr Larry Holier speaks to crowd about award

The final honoree of the evening, Chairman of Smile Train’s Medical Advisory Board, Dr. Larry Hollier, said in his remarks, “I would also like to thank Charles Wang for the confidence he showed in me by naming me as chair of the medical advisory board of Smile Train. It has been the honor of my professional life.”

Dikembe Mutumbo speaks to crowd about Smile Train partnership

Then, former NBA All-Star Dikembe Mutumbo shared about the impact of the hospital he founded becoming a Smile Train partner in the Congo. “Together, we are empowering local medical professionals. We have helped more than 180 children born with clefts receive the life-changing care they need… they don’t just survive, but they thrive!”

Alexa Ray Joel delights crowd with song

What would a celebration of smiles be without great music? Next, the Gala crowd was blown away by a special performance by Smile Train supporter Alexa Ray Joel.

DJ Rukus and Rev Run at the turntable

Then, the crowd moved to the dance floor for a DJ set by REV RUN + DJ RUCKUS, and the after-party began.

All hands in the air for Rev Run

By the event’s end, the goal of the event was accomplished, and many in attendance were energized to do even more for children living with clefts around the world.

On behalf of Smile Train and all the children we have been able to help together over the past 20 years, we thank you. We will work together to help change the world one smile at a time. We hope you will continue to join us.

If you would like to learn more about Smile Train’s history or see images of some of our proudest moments over the past 20 years, check out the “It Starts with a Smile” page on our site. Additionally, check out the #ItStartsWithASmile hashtag to see some more pictures of the event.

A special thanks to our Gala sponsors. This event wouldn’t have been possible without your generosity.

Philanthropist Sponsors

Bank of America Private Bank

Good Apple

Humanitarian Sponsors

GSK Consumer Healthcare

The Aivee Group

Benefactor Sponsors




Northern Trust

Northwell Health

Texas Children’s Hospital

Smile Maker Sponsors

Capital One

Citi Private Bank

Citrin Cooperman

Clate Korsant

Farouk Systems

Farrell Fritz

Grant Thornton




Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP

Richard Peloquin and Mary Bucaro

Roy and Melissa Reichbach

The MASY Group, LLC

William D. Lautman, Nexus Health Capital


Arnold and Porter

Baylor College of Medicine


Eagle Comm

Edelman Beijing

Edelman New York

Grosvenor Capital Management

Icreon Tech

KLS Martin

Mediaspace Solutions

PlowShare Group

Timothy Sullivan