Palmetto High School senior Laura Diez was in a tubing accident that uncovered a problem she was having with her jaw. In the six weeks between the accident and the necessary surgery, she says she was in great pain and resented her situation.
“I had this jaw problem that I didn’t know about, and I realized during my recovery that I was angry about having the surgery,” she says. “I wanted to do something so I wouldn’t look back on those six weeks with resentment, I wanted to do something that I could look back on and be proud off.”
So, Diez started a community service project that she named Spreading Smiles.
“Since last March, I have been collecting toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste; I take these oral health products to homeless shelters downtown,” she says. “I put a toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste and a floss packet in a Ziploc bag. It started out as a way to make myself feel better, but it’s become a really great experience.”
In the past year she has visited Lotus House for Women and Children, New Life Family Shelter, Harbor House, the Miami Rescue Mission and the Florida Baptist Children’s Home in South Miami. Diez has contacted South Miami dentists and orthodontists and asked them for donations.
“I don’t ask for anything specific, I tell them what I’m doing and ask if they would like to donate toothbrushes, toothpaste or floss,” she says. “It’s worked out nicely. I haven’t had to go out and buy any material for the project.”
By the beginning of this year, she had collected 1,480 units, enough to make up 595 dental hygiene packets.
“When I started collecting, I wanted to make sure I was dividing up the donations as efficiently as I could,” she says. “I always call in advance and I take along a few extra. As opposed to just donating blindly, I like to make sure I’m dividing as efficiently as I can.”
Diez started the project even though she had already fulfilled the school-related community service requirements.
“I did it for myself because I wanted to give back,” she says. “I know that I’ve been very lucky, I’ve never been without basic things.”
Although toothbrushes and toothpaste aren’t directly related to her jaw problem, she wanted to collect and donate items that are basic daily items that everyone uses.
As for her jaw problem, it’s something that she will have to live with.
“I’m always going to have a little bit of pressure. There’s always a little bit of pressure. I have to be careful with what I eat. Meat that is well done, I can’t chew it. I have to take an Aleve,” she says. “I’m only 17 and my surgeon said it’s generally not as severe at my age. I’ve had it for a long time and thought it was normal. My jaw would dislocate when I would yawn.”
The surgery did help. It’s easier for her to open her mouth and it’s not as painful.
At Palmetto, Diez is an officer in Key Club. She has been a member of the service club for all four years of her high school career.
“It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve done,” she says.
Diez is also in Mu Alpha Theta, the English Honor Society, National Honor Society and Social Science Honor Society. She also is on the Palmetto bowling team and this year they made it to the second round of ;the district tournament. She’s also doing research at the Evolution and Human Behavior laboratory at the University of Miami. She says she enjoys the lab setting and likes psychology, but isn’t sure if that will be her major course of study in college. She has been accepted to Tulane, Loyola and Fordham.