Today is International Women’s Day! What better day to launch our LYL column which stands for Lovely Young Ladies and doubles for Love You Lots. Either way, it’s appropriate because we LOVE these ladies a lot! The young women featured in this column inspire me; and I’m sure when you hear their stories they will inspire and motivate you to be your best YOU and make a difference in your own way.
First up, we interviewed a very good friend of mine who started a charity very close to our hearts. Her name is Cassidy Mershon; and she is the founder of Save A Smile, an organization that builds tooth brushing water stations and brings healthy dental care education and products to less fortunate children in the Philippines.
What you may not realize is how important dental care is for our overall health. Cassidy has educated and shared with me that a lack of dental health can result in heart disease, dementia, respiratory infections and diabetic complications! Unfortunately, many children in poor countries don’t have access to clean water stations and tools to properly care for their teeth. This is where Save a Smile comes in. With the help of generous donors, Cassidy’s organization works to save lives by saving smiles!
Cassidy Mershon, Executive Director and Founder of Save A Smile
DBN: Tell us about yourself. How would someone describe you? What do you do when you aren’t working on your charity organization? What might someone be surprised to know about you?
CM: Someone who I may have crossed paths with would describe me as passionate, driven, ambitious, and easy to talk to! I am currently a student at UC Berkeley, graduating this upcoming May. When I am not working on Save A Smile, you can find me with a cup of coffee studying, grabbing dinner with friends, or calling my mom! Away from school and Save A Smile, people may be surprised to know that I enjoy singing, playing guitar, and piano.
DBN:Tell us about your charity organization Save a Smile. When did you start it? What are your goals / mission?
CM: I started Save A Smile in 2016. We are a nonprofit organization raising funds to build tooth brushing and hand washing stations at elementary schools in the Philippines. Our mission is global dental health awareness. I hope Save A Smile stations will pave the way for children across the globe to teach and practice healthy tooth brushing and hand washing. The children are the future!
DBN: Tell us about what influenced your decision to start a charity organization. What inspired you to start Save a Smile?
CM: I was lucky enough to be able to attend a medical mission to the Philippines with my grandparents in 2015. The mission, Uplift Internationale, offers surgeries to children with cleft lips and palates. I spent most of my time on this trip lending a hand. Wherever and whenever someone needed help, I was there! One day, the outreach program needed help visiting local schools. It was there when I fell in love with the children, the culture, and the dental health cause. I remember vividly sitting with a group of children working on a project to make a paper airplane. There was a strong language barrier that was overcome by smiles and laughter. Sadly, their smiles were filled with tooth decay. I could only imagine the pain they must feel when they eat. If a smile could bring our completely different worlds and experiences together, it was up to me to protect those smiles.Save A Smile was a long thought. I admit that it was not just a light bulb one second and results in the next. It was a lot of hard work and a lot of asking questions. My trip to the Philippines with Uplift Internationale allowed me to make genuine connections to really get the ball rolling. I work with a past president of a rotary group who handles which schools get a station, labor, and supplies.
DBN: Tell us about Save a Smile’s first or most memorable accomplishment. What was it like? How did you feel?
CM: Oh wow, even reading this question gives me goosebumps. After my trip to the Philippines in 2015, I was not able to return until the summer of 2018. I spent those three years of fundraising to build 6 stations! The hardest part for me was how disconnected I felt from the project itself. I was able to see pictures of the building process, the children finally using the station, and the many smiles from all of the people in the Philippines who helped make this all possible. Finally, in 2018, I planned my trip back. I stayed with my partner in the Philippines, Megs. Her city is unique, colorful, and filled with a sense of family. Everyone I met greeted me as if they had known me forever. I remember the night before I was about to go visit one of the stations we built. I couldn’t sleep; I was nervous, excited, and relieved. Relieved because I could finally be there with the kids! After all, the kids are the foundation of Save A Smile. They have always inspired me. I remember throwing all of the donated toothbrushes in my backpack and heading over to the first station. The moment I walked in, I saw the children gathering around the station with a poster welcoming me back to the Philippines. “Welcome, Ms. Cassidy!” I don’t think I had ever smiled so much in my entire life. All I felt was complete and utter love and compassion. I was also very proud of myself. To be able to see and touch the station and hug the children was the best feeling in the entire world. I brought toothbrushes with me as well so we could all practice healthy tooth brushing habits! I got to visit the 5 other stations on this trip and each one gave me the same feeling. Pure love and pure joy.
DBN: Tell us about some of the people you’ve met while working.
CM: Megs is my partner and the former president of the Rotary Club of Kalibo. She has dedicated her entire life to charity, advocacy, and helping her community. When I last visited her I asked her how she managed to do so much for so many people. She simply said “always keep your feet on the ground…no matter how high you climb remember where you came from and how lucky you are to be here.” She recognizes her family, community members, and friends for her successes and wants to return the favor by giving her life to philanthropy and charity. She inspires me every day. She is the hardest working, strongest woman I have ever met. I am so grateful to work with her and be her friend.
DBN: What’s next for Save a Smile?
CM: Save A Smile has a long way to go! In the short term, we are fundraising again to build more stations! Our long-term goal is to spread our stations globally! I am thankful for how far I have come and all of the opportunities to come. The future is full of smiles! One of my personal goals and missions for Save A Smile exists without my presence. I want this organization to create a stepping stone for global dental health. It will take the children who are brushing their teeth at the stations to teach their children and so on. This mission is beyond me, but will make waves to a better and brighter future!
DBN: Where can people go to learn more about Save a Smile?
DBN: What’s your personal philosophy on starting a charity? What would you tell young women, teens and tweens looking to support or start a charity organization?
CM: My personal philosophy on starting a charity is just taking the first step and start it! Many amazing ideas live inside of a person because they are either too scared to start or too intimidated by the big world. We, as young women, who are passionate about making a change and helping others are completely capable. We must not listen to the voices in our heads that say we cannot do it or to the people who may say “but you are too young”. We are confident, proud, and powerful. Change begins with you. My best advice is if you want to help and do not know where to start to ask someone for help, search questions on google, or hey, you can call me! I know the feeling of hesitating because I was scared of failure. But, I knew there were people in the world suffering, and I could help if I overcame my fears and just started. That is how Save A Smile is now providing healthy tooth brushing and hand washing stations to 6,000 children at 6 schools.
Well my friends, I hope you smiled while you read this interview. I know I did. We are so proud and honored to support Cassidy and her mission. We donate a portion of every sale to Save A Smile. We encourage everyone to find a cause that you can be passionate about and give back. You can give your time, donate or initiate a fundraiser. I promise you’ll feel great to be a part of something bigger than yourself!