Our work at Merkle Response Management Group (RMG) is so much more than the daily operations of our response management services. It’s also about building partnerships and supporting nonprofits in their missions to do good. As an account manager, I’ve grown close relationships with my clients and have come to be truly invested in their causes. Recently, my work with one nonprofit led to the experience of a lifetime – a chance to take part in a mission trip to the Philippines with Operation Smile.
Embracing the Client Mission
Operation Smile works in over 60 countries to provide free surgeries for individuals with cleft palate, cleft lip, or other facial deformities. On mission trips, teams of international volunteers provide medical, administrative and emotional support to children and adults seeking to improve their quality of life with these surgeries. When I joined Merkle RMG in 2010, Operation Smile was the first client I learned to serve in my initial operations role. I always knew I wanted to manage their account, and when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped at it.
Merkle RMG has sponsored several Operation Smile trips for donors in recent years. To show appreciation, the client invited a Merkle RMG employee to join this year’s trip to Cebu City, Philippines. I was very familiar with their history and mission, so Operation Smile asked our president, Bill Sayre, if I’d be interested. Not only did Bill give me his blessing, but Merkle RMG agreed to sponsor my trip. Of course, I was thrilled!
The Volunteer Experience
I traveled to the Philippines in late February. On this trip, doctors worked tirelessly to perform nearly 30 surgeries a day for five days. As a non-medical volunteer, I provided guidance and moral support to patients and families as they went through the various stages of receiving treatment. On the initial day, we worked 13 hours to screen 187 patients. We helped them navigate the various screening stations for patient evaluation and form completion, kept children calm and entertained as they waited their turn, and brought water and other provisions to the doctors.
On surgery days, we provided emotional support to patients and their families. Specialists would talk families through what would happen during surgery, and I’d keep them company, help take care of their children, and reassure them by sharing pictures of people who had successful outcomes from the surgery.
Of 187 patients screened, 129 received surgery. Those who didn’t receive surgery may have not been healthy enough, or may have just been returning for a follow-up visit. Also, some parents bring their children for a wellness visit. They don’t get to see a doctor or dentist in their day-to-day lives, and through Operation Smile, they receive a physical. Operation Smile welcomes this and receives them unconditionally. And if a patient requires more intensive surgery than what on-site doctors can provide, Operation Smile will send them to someone who can help them.
A Lasting Bond
The experience was extremely moving and I felt a true bond to the people I was helping. I became especially close to the family of a 6-month-old girl named Mirabella. She was only 10 pounds – very tiny for her age – and her family feared she wouldn’t be accepted for surgery. Thankfully, she was. I loved playing with her and keeping her entertained, and I stayed with her mother and grandmother while she was in surgery. I was the one to tell her family that her procedure was successful, and I was by their side when they saw her for the first time after surgery. When I went to check on “Bella” the next day, her family handed her to me, took pictures with me, and told me I was Bella’s new “aunt”. They saw me as part of their family because I was there for them in their time of need. We stay in touch over Facebook and they continue to send me updates on their little girl.
Inspired by Gratitude
It meant so much to play a role in changing people’s lives for the better. So many children with cleft palate or lip have a hard time eating, and babies can’t drink from a bottle properly. It’s amazing to see Operation Smile surgeons transform these tiny faces, and to know these children will now be able to eat and speak properly and that their whole life is going to change. I cried when I saw what a difference these doctors were making, and thanked them for all that they do. But they didn’t accept my thanks! Instead, the doctors thanked me for being part of a company that would support their mission and make it possible for them to do this. That’s a testament to the selflessness of Operation Smile’s volunteers, and also makes me proud to be part of Merkle RMG.
Core Values With Lasting Impact
This experience will have a lasting effect on the work I do for Operation Smile – because now, that mission has a face. When I provide solutions from an account management perspective, it’s the child’s face I see. That passion now extends to the other nonprofit clients I support as well.
My opportunity to travel with Operation Smile was a genuine reflection of Merkle RMG’s commitment to clients and community. Without their support, this life-changing experience – for me, and for the families we served – would never have been possible.