Rotaract Club of Willowdale names

"Smiles In Action"

their Number One Community Service Project in 2020-21

This article was published in the August 2020 Rotary District 7070 Newsletter

The Rotaract Club of Willowdale decided to make the "Smiles In Action" program their number one Community Services project for 2020/2021 and beyond, as both groups have forged a meaningful partnership for fostering goodwill,  making an impact is our communities and opening doors for opportunities.The Smiles Foundation is a non-profit institution with its seat in Canada, based in the United States and in the Dominican Republic. Their goal is to provide life-enhancing activities, dental care and primary health care education to children in the Dominican Republic, free of charge, as well as to offer underprivileged communities tools to develop and improve their health, environment, and safety through our educational and social enterprise programs. Here area a few images of the new Mobile Clinic in the Dominican Republic.  The clinic was used only a few times before we had to close it due to COVID - 19. 668 children got treated in it and a few thousand family members received primary health care and dental education. 

For more on this organization, please get in touch with Courtney Doldron at the Rotary Club of Willowdale (at

Smiles In Action: 2727 Steeles Avenue West, Suite 301, Toronto, Ontario, M3J 3G9, Canada
Canadian Charitable Organization Registration # 86854 4362 RR0001
T: (416) 739 1237 - - - -


“Smiles in Action” is an active living program designed and delivered by Smiles Foundation, a Registered Canadian Charitable Organization, that has touched over 5.5 million lives over the last 30 years. The innovative program promotes interaction, fosters physical, mental and emotional well-being through music, movement, and dance.

According to Statistics Canada, children become less engaged in physical exercise as they age. Recent studies show that only 40% of children and youth met the recommended criteria of 60 minutes of physical activity per day. From youth aged 12 to 17, only 31% of respondents met the recommended level of physical activity. What we also see is screen time increasing with age. While 76% of children age 5 to 11 years met recommendations of no more than two hours per day of screen time, only 26% of youth age 12-17 met these criteria.

“Smiles In Action” has been fighting sedentary behaviour across the GTA by providing tailored, high-quality and free Dance Sport lessons way before the current pandemic. Our lessons are composed of a warm-up, choreography, practice, and cool down. All lessons have multiculturalism awareness, health education and health promotion components carefully prepared and inserted throughout. The artistic and cultural engagement offered by the practice of Dances like the Cha-cha-cha, Slow Waltz and other dances, strengthens social skills and develops other ground-breaking tools for developing a powerful mindset and decreasing emotional distress.

With social distancing in effect, this is the best time to incorporate a program that boosts happy endorphins, encourages self-love and builds a strong sense of belonging. Lack of parental supervision causes children to divert their focus to their devices, naturally numbing out to electronics. This is a huge problem and could lead to lasting trouble. The program will be conducted valuing inclusiveness, our lessons are adapted to each group’s needs and preferences, and it is adaptable to be taught online.

Recent surveys conducted in Spain and Italy post-pandemic have rendered the results that 85.7% of the parents perceived changes in their children's emotional state and behaviours during the quarantine. The most frequent symptoms were difficulty concentrating (76.6%), boredom (52%), irritability (39%), restlessness (38.8%), nervousness (38%), feelings of loneliness (31.3%), uneasiness (30.4%), and worries (30.1%).

Coincidentally physical exercise has proven to help with every single one of the symptoms mentioned above.

Dancing encourages social bonding, as moving in rhythm with others promotes a feeling of connection and sameness increasing concentration and instilling a sense of oneness. There are studies showing that dancing improves cognitive flexibility, the integrity of our brain's processing speed and memory and that it triggers the release of endorphins improving energy, mood and lowering stress. Sport and physical activity are powerful tools to teach the skills required to gain meaningful traits for future success.

A 2013 study found that adolescent girls had more positive thoughts and felt more confident after dancing. They reported feeling better about their overall health after participating in structured dance classes that focused on the enjoyment of movement. Through incorporating a warm-up, physical exercise, meditation, and final dance performance into each session we will engage kids from all walks of life while respecting any religious or cultural limitations.

“Schools are doing a lot of work, to encourage children to move, but we can always do more,” York Region District School Board health and physical education curriculum consultant Julie Anderson said. Feeding our children is yet another objective of Smiles Foundation: building a healthy relationship with food. Smiles Foundation is qualified to carry out this mission due to our experience in the Dominican Republic, where many children walk into our clinics hungry or even fainting during procedures due to malnutrition. If a growing body is not fed it deteriorates. We try to help in that area too

“Smiles In Action” is coordinated by top Canadian Dance Sport educators with over 20 years of experience. The Director of the Program “Smiles in Action” - Sarah-Maude Thibaudeau, is a Top Canadian DanceSport Athlete, 1 time Canadian representative to the World Games and 2 times Canadian representative in World Championships placing 16th in the world 10 dance with many years of teaching experience and program administration. President and Founder of Smiles Foundation, Elina Katsman, represented Canada in 4 world championships, placing 10th in the World, is passionate about “Smiles in Action”. Maria Shalvarova, - “Smiles In Action” Regional Director is an undefeated Canadian Latin American Champion as well as the North American Showdance Champion for three consecutive years. Maria competed in many world-class competitions, taking podium finishes in some of the most prestigious competitions in the World.

The team’s full dedication is geared towards our participants encouraging flourishing and growing to love and appreciate physical activity as a lifestyle. The Smiles Foundation’s team, mostly made of immigrants, has changed their own lives through dance; becoming dentists, artists, athletes, coaches, champions, educators and program developers! Our organization is made up of the very people we serve, making us most qualified for this responsibility.

Short Term Goals

● Fundraise $ 70,000.00 to provide a free program for 700 underprivileged children from the public school system.

Our program wants to deliver this program for the following reasons:
a) to promote mental and physical wellness to children ages 6-14 going through the hardest hurdle of their
lives to date;
b) to provide a step-by-step and fun wellness program to foster a healthy lifestyle change that will lead to future

c) to provide a safe, inclusive, and highly supportive peer-led environment, establishing friendship and

In its short existence, “Smiles in Action” has already impacted over 1760 students in the York Region School Board by running a co-curricular program during the school day. After working with 7 public schools of the York Region, Smiles Foundation developed a partnership with the York Region District School Board to perfect the program and to continue delivering lessons in the schools that deeply need these activities. York Region was chosen by Smiles Foundation because its under-served communities consist of 60% of immigrants. With those funds, we will provide an artistically inclined sport to children who would normally not have access to this opportunity due to high costs and lack of parental free time. Our partners in the York District School Board value our knowledge of the curriculum and how easily adaptable our lessons are - setting us apart from other programs due to its depth and cognitive education. Our city-wide partnerships have impacted even more people of all ages and skill levels from Moms & Babies to Seniors. A detailed description of our available classes can be found on our website:

Taking into account the current COVID-19 situation, we further adapted our teachings to better serve our future students. Now our program participants will experience the benefits from reformatted exercises, focused on the emotional release of bottled up feelings. Children will be encouraged to express their creativity and individualism while simultaneously moving their bodies and exercising through music and dance. Our entire program, the steps, the physical and mental exercises and the rubric all correlate with the Ontario curriculum for Physical Education as well as Arts Curriculum. As a testament to our work, Mr.Grammenos, a Principal at Milliken Mills Public School where Smiles Foundation delivered its program, concluded in his gratitude letter:

“Given the reality, our students would never have had exposure to this kind of valuable learning and personal development experience had it not have been for the phenomenal SMILES Team! Many of our students are living in rented accommodations, with multiple or extended families living in the same home, including many basement apartments, with very limited financial and other resources. It was most rewarding for all of us here @ the Mills to see our students learn, practice, and grow together, knowing that the dance experience we were being offered was in so many ways a catalyst to so much more.
Indeed, our journey together was about trying something new and different – something unique classic, and non-high tech – it was about embracing personal risk, stepping outside that familiar comfort zone, and working and practicing alongside others some of those valuable learning and life success skills like collaboration, teamwork, mutual respect, and understanding the dynamics and rewards of practice and perseverance towards a shared goal of excellence. Our journey together was also very much about personal wellness, mindfulness, love of music, use of space, and of course careful, conscious, controlled yet at the same time exhilaratingly freeing graceful movement.

It should also be noted that not only did our students benefit greatly, but it was also a wonderful professional learning experience for our staff, who gained a far deeper insight into the design, delivery and assessment of a dance program, an important aspect of the Ontario Physical Education Curriculum, as well as for our parents, who got to see their children practice with the support of the provided videos, and strive with determination to learn something new.”

The letter from Mr. Grammenos goes on far beyond just these subscripts. It was truly rewarding to see so many students and staff use the opportunity provided by our program to better their lives, encouraged and supported by the School Principal who worked shoulder-to-shoulder with us to motivate students in their new endeavour.


Smiles Foundation is driven by creating lasting change in children and youth by fostering a love for physical exercise as it has shown to pour into every other aspect of one’s life: school, relationships, feeling of physical and emotional well-being and self-worth, among others. With the funds, students from low-income households who do not have resources to attend extra-curricular activities to cope with the impact of COVID-19 will have the opportunity of a lifetime.

We anticipate that post-pandemic results on our local youth will look very similar to the research conducted in China post-COVID-19: Statistics showed clinginess, distraction, irritability, and fear that family members can contract the deadly disease were the most common behavioural problems identified in children and youth. As expected, children slept more hours during the quarantine and moved less, spent more time using computers, phones and watching TV. The current pandemic is having a greater impact on low-income families causing increased insecurity about the future and toxic stress.

Physical activity has proven time and time again to positively impact a person’s well-being during distress, worry, uncertainty and positively reflect on a child's learning capabilities, health, self - esteem, social interaction, and flexibility. We will provide equal opportunities for all children to belong to a  community that will share the same passion fostering peer and role model relationships through teacher and student interaction.

The lesson plans are already developed, and the schools where we will deliver Dance Sport classes will be appointed to us by our partners at the York Region District School Board, with whom we have been working before and have a great working relationship and mutual understanding. The Smiles in Action Dance Sport classes will take place within the school boundaries and our program will be safe and inclusive of all abilities, cultures, religions and accommodating to medical limitations. Children who cannot participate due to religious or medical reasons will be provided with an alternative method of study. Due to the fact that our previous grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation provided us with an opportunity to purchase Chromebooks, speakers and microphones for all our instructors, we will use that equipment to deliver our classes without the need to allocate funds to that category.

Children will have an opportunity to showcase newly learned skills in front of parents, teachers and peers. The Final Performances will be promoted in the schools and in the community with the intention to make an active lifestyle enticing among other children, their families and in the community at large. The more physical and mental activity becomes a popular pastime in the community, the greater the chances of it becoming a lifelong change for these students. In the past, we invited Professional Dance Sport competitors to the Final Performances to showcase their skills and inspire the students. The invited competitors ranged from our young Smile’s ambassadors of just 10 years of age to our Mature Adult ambassadors of over 50 years of age. We
found that showing students a glimpse of what long-term dedication to physical exercise looks like was extremely impactful. This experiment also showed us that exposing students to dancers from diverse backgrounds piques their interest and engagement.

If social distancing is still a requirement during the implementation of this program, we have an alternative and well-experimented plan of action in place. We are prepared, experienced and knowledgeable about how to restructure our programs to fit within the parameters of social distancing, achieving the same desired results. Back up lesson plans and event details are all worked out and ready to be utilized, if needed. Currently, we are delivering a program aimed to benefit thousands of seniors in York Region, and we have managed to do it safely and effectively.

Each step the children will learn through our program will be transferred to the Youtube channel and explained in an easy-to-follow short video clip. Throughout the span of the program, children will have easy access to our exclusive Youtube channel. This channel features dance videos that properly and understandably, introduce dances from diverse backgrounds, nurturing students' love for multiculturalism and diversity. It also has primary health care education and Dance lesson tutorials for the schools' homeroom teachers to continue encouraging Dance practice indefinitely. Our Youtube channel will also feature standing as well as sitting-down options for children who may have physical disabilities or medical conditions.

Finally, the channel will feature inspirational messages from current Dance Sport athletes with motivational stories of hurdles most common to young people today and examples of how they overcame them. The program will make sure that our participants have a chance to eat a nutritious snack that we will offer
essential for kids dealing with hunger at home. Children from low-income families often run out of food before the end of the school day. Having healthy snacks available before Dance Sport Classes will fuel kids with energy making them happier to participate in physical activities and energized to put in the effort mentally and physically. The more engaged and emerged the students are, instead of thinking of hunger pains, the more benefit they reap from our elaborate activities. It will also help us reduce socio-economic barriers and make all the kids feel the same - energetic and excited to learn the new Dance Sport activity.

Smiles Foundation would have never made the impact it has both in the Dominican Republic and Canada if it wasn’t for the communities that support our mission, our children and our Dance Sport classes. We want to continue building a strong community for underprivileged youth, so they can always find solace, comfort and joy in their peers, friends and other people around them. It takes a village to raise a child, so let’s build the
village for our children together!