International medical charity Operation Smile’s ambassadors and benefactors gathered at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica on Saturday evening to celebrate Evan Ross and Ashlee Simpson-Ross as the couple received the 2017 universal smile award for their philanthropic work for the organization.
NBC’s president of entertainment Jennifer Salke, who became a dedicated sponsor of the organization after her son, who was born with a cleft lip, started a fundraising page when he was seven and raised $60,000, talked about how important it is for those with a platform to get involved with charitable work. “We all get asked to do lots of things, and we all care about lots of causes — especially if you have a giving, generous spirit — but when you really lock in on something, you can make a huge difference.”
“This Is Us” star Justin Hartley, who became involved with the organization a year ago, said Operation Smile’s work resonated with him particularly because of his career as an actor. “Actors, we speak — that’s how we communicate, that’s how we make our money, that’s our art — and some of these kids aren’t able to speak.” He added that he was impressed by how much could be done with so little. Each surgery costs around $240 and can be completed under an hour.
Operation Smile’s founders Dr. Bill and Kathy Magee took the stage to thank the organization’s supporters before “Black-ish’s” Tracee Ellis Ross came forward to present the universal smile award to her brother, Evan, and his wife. “Together, Ashlee and Evan have tirelessly lent their voices to educate, enlighten, and encourage people about Operation Smile’s work,” she said. “As parents themselves to the most beautiful little niece of mine, they know that there is nothing more beautiful than a child’s smile and have advocated that someday all children will have access to this life-changing care.”
Dr. Bill Dorfman was also presented with the Medical Visionary Award from Operation Smile, and luxury Malibu realtor Susan Monus received the John Connor Humanitarian Award.
Dance duo Les Twins — who won the Jennifer Lopez-hosted NBC competition show “World of Dance” this year — brought the house down with their mind-bending routine after Evan Ross joined his friend, singer-songwriter Austin Brown, on stage to sing Eric Clapton’s “Change the World.”
During the live auction, “American Ninja Warrior” host Matt Iseman energetically took the stage to make the call for donations, eliciting a $100,000 gift from producer Mark Burnett and wife Roma Downey. Operation Smile ambassadors Brooke Burke-Charvet and her husband David Charvet also made significant donations.