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Hidden Gems: Meet Sandy Dorsey of Smiles for Speech

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sandy Dorsey. 

Hi Sandy, so excited to have you on the platform. So, before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I founded Smiles for Speech in July of 2017, after working as a licensed speech-language pathologist in underserved communities for over 20 years in New York City. I wanted to bridge the gap globally to offer speech therapy services and training for teachers and caregivers living in disadvantaged communities with little or no access to the resources they need. My passion has always been for girls and boys that look like me to have access to the resources they need to live their best lives regardless of socioeconomic status, gender, race, or location. Children with disabilities in developing countries are the most vulnerable since having a disability is such a stigma that alienates the mother and child from the community. Children are thought to be cursed by their ancestors, from the devil, or snake/river children. So much education is required to reframe the thinking and shift the blame from being the mother’s fault. I hope to be the voice for children that aren’t able to use theirs yet to tell their own story. 

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
The triumphs have definitely outweighed the obstacles. Funding is a constant challenge for us to support the life changing projects that we have planned. Our community of speech-language pathologists have been incredibly supportive from the start in believing in our mission. It would not have been possible to continue this work without every single donation and our greatest support from the App Lovin corporation. Ann and Lewis Leong took the initiative to support us during the most challenging year of Covid when both people and businesses were struggling.

We have remained committed to the communities we serve since Covid and managed to pick up the pieces virtually. We offered our first virtual workshop in 2020 when our mission trip that was planned to Kenya had to be cancelled. Little did we know we were able to reach over 500 caregivers and professionals from 17 countries all over the world in one day. We have expanded our reach virtually and we are finding ways for families connecting to the internet in low-income communities.

In December of 2021 we returned to our in-person mission trips. For 2022, we are excited to have two weeks of sold out trips to Ghana planned and our first trip to the Dominican Republic which is also currently sold out and wait listed.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
Smiles for Speech is a grass-roots and parent-centered organization meaning we make the needs of mothers that have children with special needs and their ability to thrive in their own community our priority. We offer direct speech and occupational therapy and resources for children living in disadvantaged communities, training for teachers and caregivers, mentorship for students studying speech therapy and professional development for practicing therapists.

To date, Smiles for Speech has served over 500 children in Cuba, Peru, Jamaica, Ghana, and Kenya, provided over 10,000 hours of speech and occupational therapy services, and trained more than 1500 caregivers and teachers, in 17 countries.

What sets us apart is our relationships with our partners that are built on trust and placing value on the identified needs of the close-knit communities we are honored to serve. We listen to what is important to the community and develop a framework using culturally responsive practices. We are hands on blending practical and research based approaches guided by the preferred practices by leading therapists at the universities abroad and our global advisory team. It would not have been possible to continue this work without every single donation and our greatest support from Lewis Leong from the App Lovin corporation and his wife Ann Leong during the most challenging year.

We do not fix or save, we collaborate and learn. Our mission trips are different because we promote self-sufficiency. We have a very stringent interview process and choose individuals who share the same values and aren’t planning to use the mission in a self-serving way or solely for self-promotion. Our interest is protecting the communities, maintaining dignity and respect.

We do hope that with the training we provide paired with a full immersion experience, our team members will take a more culturally responsive approach to the children they serve when they return home. In the field of speech-language pathology only 8% identify as BIPOC. We also spread awareness to encourage young people to join the crusade for a more inclusive society.

So maybe we end on discussing what matters most to you and why?
What matters most is to make sure that families are able to identify the signs that their children may need support as early as possible. Early intervention is essential for families, they can learn how to enhance functional communication skills for children and daily activities that have a meaningful impact on their lives at home when services are not available. 

With additional funding, Smiles for Speech can continue to develop global partnerships with local programs and expand our ability to create awareness and support training to build capacity within the community. 

Contact Info:

Image Credits

Marta Skovro (main photo)
Barimah Adjei

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