VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – A local teen wins a volunteerism award for her efforts in changing lives very much familiar to her.
18-year-old Mara Dempsey is the new recipient of the David Schick Award at the recent 28th annual Operation Smile International Student Leadership Conference (ISCL).
Dempsey was commended for her efforts and kind acts in India as part of an Operation Smile medical event helping children with facial anomalies go through surgery.
However, the medical mission was something that was much more personal for the teen.
“I was born with a cleft lip, which is a tear in the lip,” she said.
Like the children she was comforting and tending to, Dempsey knew exactly what they were going through.
“To overcome the language barrier, I would just pull out my baby picture and point to my lip and then to the baby picture. It would take a couple seconds, but then they’d have an epiphany. It would give them peace of mind that I also had a cleft.”
Dempsey has a become a great leader in her community by speaking publicly about being born with a cleft condition.
“I feel brave when I tell my story,” she said.
“It’s a sensitive topic for me and I feel vulnerable when I’m in front of people talking about it. I hope my story empowers those who hear it,”