Our History

Alliance for Smiles (AfS) was founded in October of 2004 by six members of the Rotary Club of San Francisco who had been involved previously with other cleft lip and palate organizations. The desire on the part of the Founders was to create a two tiered program to not only send medical teams to sites to perform corrective surgery, but also to create Treatment Centers where the protocol of cleft treatment in the United States could be replicated.

AfS Founders
The AfS founders (L to R): Jim Deitz, Anita Stangl, James Patrick, John Goings & John Uth (not pictured: Burt Berry)

In order to facilitate both dreams, Alliance for Smiles recruited Dr. Karin Vargervik, Director of the Cleft Lip and Palate Treatment Center at the UCSF Medical Center, to head the Treatment Center Program.

AfS chose China as the first country to be approached with this dual concept. Several factors contributed to this choice: the need for treatment (one in 350 children being born annually with the cleft anomaly); pre-existing relationships with the China Population Welfare Foundation and the State Family Planning Commission to facilitate logistics; and an infra-structure that could be used to set up Treatment Centers. There was also an intense interest by the Chinese to learn about Treatment Centers and establish them at sites.

The result of the dual vision is that today, Alliance for Smiles has completed over 60 medical missions around the world with over 4,000 children receiving corrective surgery. The first Treatment Center was dedicated in Jiujiang China in April of 2007, with the second established in November of 2009 in Wenzhou. A third Treatment Center was opened in Harbin in 2011 and the fourth is being established in Zunyi. Services of not only the surgeon but also speech pathologists, dentists, orthodontists and social workers are core to the programs.

From just two missions to China in 2005, Alliance for Smiles has grown quickly. We have now completed dozens of missions to China, four missions to Bangladesh and three to the Philippines. In addition, AfS embarked on a campaign in Africa, conducting missions to Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Ghana, Rwanda and Tanzania.

The future of AfS holds great potential. The Treatment Center concept will continue to expand with hospitals in new areas being developed, which means that there is a very definite sustainability factor. The original concept of providing two types of services, one immediate and the other long term, remains a basic philosophical tenet of AfS. With continued support from generous individuals, foundations, businesses, and groups such as Rotary International, AfS looks forward to expanding and realizing its dream of establishing comprehensive treatment for cleft children in developing countries all over the world.