July 17, 2019

Brian Ciuffreda, Man on a Mission, Heads PCS Operation Smile Club

MEDICAL MISSION: Princeton Charter School (PCS) Science and Music Teacher and Operation Smile Club Advisor Brian Ciuffreda last month joined an Operation Smile mission to Vietnam. The PCS student club has raised money for more than 100 surgeries over the past two years. (Photo courtesy of Operation Smile)

By Donald Gilpin

Brian Ciuffreda was in his 20s and working in business when 9/11 set him on a different trajectory. “I said to myself: ‘I want to do something more meaningful,’” he recalled. “I moved into education.”

After a year as K-12 music director at Trenton Catholic Academy, Ciuffreda came to Princeton Charter School (PCS) in 2003 to teach science. Seventeen years later he is still doing that, but he has pursued a few more assignments along the way, including math teacher, music teacher, jazz ensemble director, professional musician, technology coordinator, and sports coach.

A Renaissance man? “I’ve been called that,” he admitted, and his success at his most recent new job as founder and advisor to the PCS Operation Smile Club since 2017 promises to make him busier than ever in the coming years.

July is Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month, and Ciuffreda is currently in Winston Salem, North Carolina at the 28th Annual International Leadership Conference (ISLC) for Operation Smile, an international medical charity that has provided hundreds of thousands of free surgeries for children and young adults who are born with cleft lip, cleft palate, or other facial differences.

About three years ago, Ciuffreda’s son, a Lawrence High School (LHS) sophomore at the time and a member of the LHS Operation Smile Club, wanted to attend an ISLC conference in Rome. “The protective parent in me said ‘Maybe they need a chaperone,’” Ciuffreda recalled, and he wasted no time getting involved.

“I was so inspired by the conference and how many students were willing to help children around the world. I knew then I had to start a student club at my school,” he said.

With the enthusiastic support of PCS Head Lawrence Patton, Ciuffreda held his first meeting for fifth through eighth graders that fall, and 35 kids showed up. The momentum has built ever since, with more than 60 students now in the club, and teachers, administrators, and parents all getting on board.

In as little as 45 minutes, and for as little as $240, a child can get a life-changing surgery, Ciuffreda explained, and in the past two years the PCS Operation Smile club has raised enough money for almost 100 surgeries. In 2018 Ciuffreda won the Operation Smile Student Program’s Educator of the Year, and the PCS club won Outstanding New Club of the Year.

Ciuffreda emphasized three focal points of the club’s work: raising awareness, raising funds, and developing leadership skills. “What better set of leaders to develop than those with compassion and hearts,” he said. “I think it’s critical to make students want to help others. It is something they can feel and internalize from a really young age because it really stays with them. It becomes a genuine part of who they are.”

As the PCS Operation Smile Club continues to expand and Ciuffreda’s students move on to high school and college, he is excited to see the positive effects grow.

“In the long run, if we can reach kids at an age when they want to do service for others because they enjoy it, they realize they can do something and make a difference with small acts building up on each other,” he said. “The world becomes a better place and they pass that forward.”

Ciuffreda, 47, lives in Lawrenceville with his wife Amy, an audit manager, and their two children, a son who will be starting college and starting an Operation Smile Club at Mary Washington University in the fall, and a daughter, also involved in Operation Smile as a sophomore at LHS.