For a smile and a song …

Nicholas David and Renae Claeys talk about their Smile Network trip with KSTP-TV.

Renae Claeys, a nurse at Mayo Clinic, always hopes to bring a smile when she ventures out on a medical mission trip. That is, after all, the purpose of the organization she's hitched her wagon to, Smile Network, which Claeys discovered a few years back through a colleague. During her latest venture, there were some emotional tears of joy mixed in with those newfound smiles. (There probably always are, but there's nothing quite like a good song to bring on the waterworks. We'll get to that in a minute.)

According to the Rochester Post-Bulletin, this Minneapolis-based nonprofit "has been performing miracles around the world for almost 10 years," and Claeys has been part of that journey for the past four of those. Smile Network provides "life-altering, reconstructive surgeries and related health care services to impoverished children and young adults in developing countries."

They make it sound pretty simple. "In the space of 45 minutes and for just $500, Smile Network can provide a child with a happier, healthier future," the group says. Of course, it also takes a team of willing and skilled volunteers. 

So far, Claeys has taken three such trips to Peru, according to P-B, and her latest adventure, in November, was to Puebla, Mexico, with 13 other medical and nonmedical volunteers. "We did 60 surgeries in five days and screened over 150 patients," she says. "It's hard work -- over 12 hours a day -- but it was very rewarding … You can't imagine how much they appreciate being able to feel once again accepted in society, being able to eat properly, being able to drink properly and being able to speak properly -- these things we take for granted. It's a life-changing moment in their lives."

During this latest trip, Claeys was a veteran, and one of the newbies was Nicholas David, who gained a bit of fame on the reality TV show "The Voice." Before the trip, he'd shared his vocal stylings at a Smile Network fundraiser, the Post-Bulletin reports, and the group then asked him to join them in the field to help with "administrative things" and to play a song or two for the families. "He has the biggest, most compassionate heart," Claeys says. "He is just a fabulous person and I really enjoyed working with him."

And we're guessing that when he sang "You Are So Beautiful" for the children in Puebla, the message came through loud and clear regardless of the language. (Get a little taste of that in KSTP-TV's coverage of the trip embedded below.)

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