Today: Jun 18, 2024

One student will shave his beard for smiles

 Simone VirziNews Writer

Photo Courtesy | James Steele
(Left) 5-week-old James Steele with a cleft lip and cleft palates before he received surgery. (Right) Steele shows off his beard on April 4 on Facebook. The caption for the photo reads, “Not gonna lie to you... I’ll miss this thing when it’s gone. Less than a week...”

For the last three years, one Southern student has been grow­ing his beard during the NHL playoffs for his favorite team—the Pittsburgh Penguins—for Beard-A-Thon. This year, senior James Steele is saying goodbye to his beard to raise money for Opera­tion Smile.

The 28-year-old journalism major said he was at Walmart in Orange when volunteers for Operation Smile were outside collecting money. He donated, but wanted to do something more.

Steele said he was “looking for a way to give more than $5 at Walmart.” He said he decided to “branch off and do my own thing.”

He is now planning on shav­ing his beard this week after letting it grow for a year, and he is hoping to raise $500 by the beginning of June for the organization. He said he would like to help two people; each operation costs $240.

According to its website, Operation Smile has been a non­profit organization since 1982 and helps people throughout the world. The organization “has pro­vided more than 2 million patient evaluations and over 200,000 free surgeries for children and young adults born with cleft lips, cleft pal­ates and other facial deformities.”

Of all the organizations to donate to, Steele said he chose Operation Smile because he was born with a cleft lip and palate; he had surgery when he was 5 weeks old. Steele still has a scar from the operation, and he learned as a child that “kids are mean.” How­ever, he said he has forgiven the children who used to tease him.

“I know it would have to be even harder not to have something done,” he said, referring to surgery. “[Their lives] would be a lot easier with a 40-minute procedure.”

According to Operation Smile’s website: “Every three minutes a child is born with a cleft—often unable to eat, speak, socialize or smile. In some places these children are shunned and rejected and in too many cases, their parents can’t afford to give them the surgeries they need to live a normal life.”

Lisa Steele, Jamie’s wife, said she supports her husband and his goal to raise money for Operation Smile.

“This is a cause he is really passionate about. He knows first-hand what it’s like to have been born with a cleft lip/palate,” she said. “I think it is great that he wants to help other children.”

She said shaving and growing his beard this year has a different meaning from when he has done so for the NHL.

“The shaving part will be different this year because I have never wanted his beard to be gone so badly! I mean, it has been a year without shav­ing,” she said. “That thing is out of control. But I think the growing part will be what’s dif­ferent. I won’t be able to com­plain since it’s for a good cause, not just some crazy hockey superstition.”

Steele said he made a blog about his cause to bring aware­ness—he has also been posting about it on his Facebook page.

“I don’t want people to for­get about [the cause],” he said. “People say they’ll donate later, then they don’t.”

Many times nonprofit organizations use pictures of children with cleft lips, but the viewer does not know who they are. By using Steele’s own pic­tures on his blog, it is a “good vehicle to show a before and after.”

Senior journalism major Mike Bellmore said he donated money to help Steele.

Bellmore said he donated because he knows the organiza­tion is important to Steele.

“He knows more than anyone else what it’s like,” Bellmore said, referring to having a cleft lip and palate.

Steele has not shaved his beard since last April; his wife has been asking him to shave his beard since August.

“I like my facial hair,” he said. “I grow a good beard.”

Bellmore also said he is a fan of Steele’s beard.

“He can grow a beard better than anyone else I know,” Bell­more said, adding last year when Steele shaved his beard, he “barely recognized him.”

He also said others should donate to Operation Smile and help Steele reach his goal.

“A small amount of money can make a huge difference in someone’s life,” Bellmore said.

Steele said if anyone wants to donate they can go to his blog at http://steelecityblog.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/a-beard-for-smiles/ and click the donate here link under his photos.

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