Bringing Smiles

Inspired by his dad, Key Biscayne teen Michael Kelly is helping people in need find their smiles overseas — and bringing a smile to his own face in the process.
Text by Jacquelyn Benson | June 26, 2018 | People

Michael Kelly loves his dad. “For as long as I can remember, my father has been going on missions as a surgeon,” says the Gulliver Preparatory junior. Kelly is the son of Dr. Michael Kelly of Miami Plastic Surgery, who has spent years volunteering with Operation Smile, a non-profit that sends medical teams to developing countries to offer cleft lip, cleft palate and facial deformity surgery to people in need.
Recently, the younger Kelly undertook a journey of his own, volunteering in Nyeri, Kenya, as part of Operation Smile’s student program. Kelly helped with educating patients on health and nutrition, and kept them company before their surgeries. “Every time my father came home from a mission he would tell me the horror stories of these people’s lives and how after each surgery, each patient was changed forever and given a brighter future,” Kelly recounts. “It was their stories that inspired me to volunteer.”
His father isn’t the only family member who helped inspire Kelly’s interest in volunteering. His sister, Emma, has also taken part in medical missions, going to Fortaleza, Brazil, as a student volunteer. “I have always seen her as a great leader in school, in athletics, and then in Operation Smile,” Kelly says. “It was her example that made me understand what I, too, could do for the world.”
The young volunteer is now well on his way to collecting inspiring stories of his own. For example, while in Kenya, he once gave a talk on Operation Smile at a local school. After the presentation, he was told that a few of the students wanted him to play with them out on the field. But to his surprise, when he went outside, it wasn’t just a handful of students ready to play with him, the entire school was out there — over 1,000 children from 1st through 8th Grade. “I’ll never forget the time I spent on the field that day, nor will I forget how all the barriers of our cultures broke down in that hour.”
In between school and participation in two sports teams, the busy teen will now be helping to train new volunteers to go on similar missions, as well as giving presentations about Operation Smile’s work and helping to organize events and fundraisers. Next on the list is a 5K walk/run fundraiser, which will take place on Dec. 4. Those interested in walking can register for $10 online or $15 on the day of the event, which begins at Baptist Hospital.
For more information about the race, visit To learn more about Operation Smile, visit