About the Smile A While Foundation
The Smile A While Foundation is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization that creates a continuous pipeline of pediatric therapists to the Caribbean. We do this by recruiting graduate therapy students who are looking for placement sites to complete their clinical fieldwork rotations and providing funding for licensed therapists and other professionals who work with children with special needs.
The idea for the Smile A While Foundation took root while our founder Joanne Oates was in occupational therapy school and continued to grow as she began her career as a therapist.
In this role, time and again, she realized the impact that the support of a specialized team can have on a child with special needs. With consistent and accessible therapy, children with autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, and other special needs can live their best lives.
On June 29, 2021, Joanne founded the Smile A While Foundation to create more access to therapy services for children in the Caribbean, where services are often limited and unaffordable.
By sponsoring licensed pediatric therapists and therapy students, Smile A While connects people, communities, and cultures and provides a continuous stream of therapy for children who would otherwise have no access to these services.
Joanne Oates, OTLR/L
Joanne Oates is a pediatric occupational therapist based in New York City with 6 years of experience working with children with special needs.
She began her career as a therapist focused on early childhood development. Joanne received her M.S. in Occupational Therapy from Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New York. She is currently pursuing her doctorate of Occupational Therapy (OTD) from Temple University.
Joanne is a member of the National Black Occupational Therapy Caucus, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), and the Coalition of Occupational Therapy Advocates for Diversity (COTAD).
As an American of Jamaican descent, Joanne has a passion for bringing together people and resources to address the health and educational disparities that exist between special needs children in America and the Caribbean.
Our Board of Directors
Islands We Serve
The Jamaican Population Census of 2001 noted that there were 162,800 persons who self-identified as having a disability in Jamaica. Children under 14 make 21% of that population (Unicef, 2018). Sadly, most children with disabilities in Jamaica aren’t getting the support they need.
While in America, therapy services for children with diagnosed disabilities are free, in Jamaica, therapy services are limited and often only available in Kingston, which can mean hours of traveling for some families. This makes the proper care for a child to achieve a quality life simply unrealistic.
Often therapy students from the Caribbean study abroad and don’t return to their home countries after getting their degrees. This has led to a shortage of licensed therapists and contributed to the scarcity of affordable therapy services for children.
Underserved children perpetuate cycles of poor physical and mental health, economic hardship, and illiteracy. Children with special needs from women-headed households or rural areas are at the highest risk of economic and social deprivation.
Smile A While supports schools for children with special needs in Jamaica by providing therapists, equipment, and funds for travel and professional development. This critical support can change the trajectory of a child’s life and lead to positive health and quality of life outcomes.
2022 was a year of exploration and discovery for Smile A While Foundation.
We experienced a number of firsts including;
- Sponsoring our firsts cohort of therapists to attend a virtual conference through our Interdisciplinary Team Training Series
- Securing our first splinting clinic trip to Jamaica as a part of our Sponsored Therapist program
- Speaking to educate and grow awareness of our organization at a number of different conferences