Bess Cohn Humanitarian Award – Don Watkins

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Don WatkinsWhen Don Watkins, co-founder of Utah-based supplier firm HandStands (asi/59525), met Dr. William Magee through a mutual friend, he knew he had a chance to make a significant difference in many people’s lives. Dr. Magee, a plastic and craniofacial surgeon, is the co-founder of Operation Smile, an international medical charity first established in 1982. Their mission from the beginning has been to bring together health-care professionals, volunteers and donors all over the world in order to help children receive operations for cleft lips and cleft palates, free of charge. The organization also offers post-operation support and therapy for children in low- and middle-income areas.

According to the organization, a child is born with a cleft palate every three minutes. The corrective surgery is relatively simple, but those children without financial resources often don’t receive it. If not corrected, the condition often leads to difficulty in eating, breathing and hearing, and children who don’t receive surgery are twice as likely to die before their first birthdays.

In the 20 years since Watkins and Magee met, HandStands has made numerous financial donations to Operation Smile, enough for more than 10,000 operations. Watkins has also been a member of the Operation Smile Board of Directors, and continues to promote the organization at both the state and national levels.

“Our business in promotional products is about companies building impressions,” says Conie Mangum, vice president of promotional sales at HandStands. “So we understand the importance of first impressions. Operation Smile has built a network of over 5,400 medical volunteers all over the world who have provided more than 3.8 million health-care evaluations and performed more than 200,000 free surgeries since 1982. However, many children are still waiting, so we donate to Operation Smile to help even more kids receive the opportunity to live a healthy, productive life filled with hope.”

Donating to Operation Smile has truly become an integral part of the company culture at HandStands, which requests contributions from both employees and customers. Recently, the company tied in donations with meeting its sales goals; each time a monthly sales goal was met, HandStands agreed to make a gift to the organization.

“Everyone from sales reps to production employees pulled together to hit 11 of the 12 monthly sales goals for that year, and we donated funds for 11 life-changing surgeries,” says Mangum. “We held a celebratory company lunch and presented a check to Operation Smile reps.”

The HandStands catalog contains information on donating, and the company’s holiday gift cards sent to customers indicate that, in lieu of a year-end gift, the money was donated to Operation Smile. “We’ve sponsored a breakfast where we request donations,” says Mangum. “We’ve invited our state governor and community leaders, and asked a local news personality to be the host. It’s all about changing as many lives as possible.” – SL