MINOT, N.D. (KXNET) — Every three minutes a child is born with a cleft lip or a palate condition, and, as a result, they may suffer from malnourishment and difficulty with speech, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A local group that helps an organization called Operation Smile has found a way to fund surgeries for affected children in low-resource countries.

Operation Smile is a global non-profit organization, specializing in cleft surgery and care.

Over the last 40 years, they have provided surgeries, dentistry, psychological care, speech therapy, and nutrition education to children, worldwide.

The organization has been built from dedicated staff, medical professionals, and student volunteers.

A Minot State University alum became one of its student volunteers as an undergraduate student in 2013.

Emily Stephens says it all began when she was majoring in communication disorders to become a speech pathologist.

“One year my parents gave us money for Christmas and said go do something with this money that would help somebody else out. And I wanted to do something that involved my profession. So, donating the money for surgery really just inspired me to continue to find ways to donate more money,” said Stephens, the Miles for Smiles founder.

Stephens says that once she found a way to sponsor surgeries through Operation Smile, her foundation Miles for Smiles was born.

The name was based on the benefit walk she created to spread awareness for these conditions.

Now, as an instructor at MSU in the communication disorders department, she says the foundation has grown and her speech pathology students have carried on her legacy.

“When we come together on that day, I remember last year it was a beautiful morning at Oak Park. And you know, we get them all together and we walked the path and just scattered out everywhere we just have signs raising awareness,” said Meghan Ackerman, a junior at MSU and president of Miles for Smiles.

The benefit walk reached its 11th year this month and is now the foundation’s most popular and lucrative event.

Miles for Smiles has provided over 260 surgeries to those with facial deformities since its inception.

Stephens says she wants to continue to fund more surgeries and spread awareness on just how impactful donations can be on a child’s life.

“I just think that it’s really important to send a message to give back. We all have our gifts and our talents and it’s just important to give back and that’s just one way we can come together as a group here with faculty, staff, and students and really just kind of give back to other communities,” said Stephens.

Operation Smile says some cleft lip and palate conditions can cause life-threatening complications, but any contribution will help brighten smiles all across the world.