By Janee Law
With blonde hair, piercing blue eyes and a tiny scar above her top lip, Ella Pastorelli’s smile evokes one thing: pure joy. She’s had a knack for that ever since she was born as she has dedicated each of her 10 birthdays to raising funds for Smile Train, a non-profit organization that provides corrective surgeries for children with cleft lips and palates, like she once had.
Before Ella was born, doctors informed her parents, Jimmy and Kelli, that she had developed a cleft lip. Ella, whose 10th birthday was Sept. 13, had corrective surgery at four months old.
While the experience was difficult, Kelli said, the family has grown from it.
“Now I realize that it was a gift,” Kelli, 42, said. “It taught me, my husband and the rest of my children to do good for others who don’t have what you have. Ella changed our life.”
The experience prompted the Pastorelli family, of Greenlawn, to open a lemonade stand each year on Ella’s birthday to raise money for Smile Train. Ever since, Ella and her family have raised around $250,000 for the Manhattan-based organization, which has used the funds to help pay for 1,000 corrective surgeries, according to a Smile Train official.
This year, however, the Pastorelli’s forwent the lemonade stand and took things to the next level: they hosted a gala at Oheka Castle on Sept. 8 that raised a whopping $93,000, and counting, for Smile Train.
Caitlin Roarke, senior manager of community fundraising of Smile Train, said the money will be used to help fund surgeries for 372 children in underdeveloped countries. The surgeries cost $250, according to Roarke.
She added that Pastorellis are an “incredible family” that took a tough situation and turned it into something “wonderful.”
“They pull together such an incredible community every year for their lemonade stand, and this year for the gala,” Roarke said. “It’s really amazing to watch this community thrive and be so generous and wonderful for Smile Train.”
Ella’s role in the yearly fundraisers has grown as she’s grown.
“When she turned 5, there was no doubt she wanted to have a fundraiser for her birthday, which I think is amazing,” Kelli said. “There are a lot of options for kids and that’s what she has picked to do every year.”
Since she went through the same experience, but was fortunate enough to have the surgery, Ella wants to help other kids in any way she can, she said.
And she’s not the only one. Her siblings, Grace, 14; Johnny, 13; and James, 6; and her dad, Jimmy, 42, who owns Value Drugs in Greenlawn; have each joined the cause. Jimmy said the kids walk around the neighborhood to hand out invitations on a yearly basis.
“It’s a great way for us to teach our kids that it’s good to give back,” he said. “We were fortunate enough to have a surgeon repair Ella’s lip. We had the accessibility to great doctors that are here in the states, whereas overseas in developing countries they don’t have that luxury.”
Jimmy said the family is still in awe of the gala, which was still raising money through mailed in checks as of deadline Friday. He said they hopes to reach the $100,000 mark.
Ella said that having helped children over the years feels “pretty awesome.”
She’s a fifth grader at Thomas J. Lahey Elementary School in Greenlawn and her favorite subject is writing.
During her free time, Ella does gymnastics, practices the flute, likes to ski and plays with her bunny, “Angie.”
While her list of activities continues to grow, she has no intention of stopping her annual fundraiser.
In fact, “When I move into my own house,” she said, “I’ll take it and keep doing it as the years go on.”