The Executive Officer of the 77th Precinct stationhouse on Utica Avenue in Bedford Stuyvesant Brooklyn, Captain Allison Esposito, talked about her work helping children with cleft palates in Peru,
When NYPD Capt. Alison Esposito isn’t fighting crime in Brooklyn, she’s trying to help children in poor countries afflicted with a birth defect that robs them of their ability to smile.
Since returning from a 2015 trip to Peru, Esposito has been trying to increase awareness about cleft lip and cleft palate, defects that can deprive kids of nutrition and sap their spirit because they can’t smile and are often shunned.
While there, Esposito and some friends raised enough money to help 22 children undergo reconstructive surgery.
“I’d like to do this again, maybe in India,” Esposito said. “It’s not easy, with work, to get that much time off, but if I can at least raise awareness about the issue and about how people can help, I’ll do that.”
Whenever she can, Esposito talks to NYPD fraternal groups about the issue.
So far, she has encouraged five other people to join the cause, according to Smile Network International, a Minneapolis-based humanitarian organization that arranges the surgeries.
Esposito’s father, Mike, is a retired NYPD chief. She joined the NYPD 19 years ago and is second in command at the 77th Precinct.
In 2014, she was tapped by the NYPD to attend an International Association of Chiefs of Police leadership conference for women in Florida. During a conversation with an instructor, Esposito learned about the Smile Network, then met Kim Valentini, a former public relations executive who founded the organization.
Esposito, 41, doesn’t have children, but adores them nonetheless.
NYPD Capt. Alison Esposito (left) in Peru with a mom and her newborn)helps raise money for surgery.
“The majority of people who volunteer are people who just have a soft spot for kids,” Valentini said. “With Alison, there wasn’t any question. She was going to participate.”
Esposito and three friends raised about $15,000 to fund the surgeries, and then flew to Peru in the fall of 2015 to assist the doctors who had donated their time.
What she saw changed her life.
“It was really quite a humbling experience,” Esposito said. “These people are so poor, and you have to understand that in these countries this affliction is thought of as a curse. Some of these babies are abandoned — they’re left for dead.
“Their parents are ashamed of them, they’re hidden and they’re in darkness.”
As a kid, Esposito dreamed of several careers, including trauma surgeon. In Peru, she assisted the doctors with whatever they needed, and she tried to put the worried parents at ease — no easy task given the misinformation, namely that the doctors were there to remove their children’s organs, that is commonly spread.
“I don’t speak Spanish; so much of it was translated,” she said. “You’re speaking to them and they may not understand the words, but they understand the emotion behind the words. Whenever I took a child I would put my hand back on the parent. It was a very touching exchange.
“And the best feeling in the entire world is to hand that baby back to a parent — whole and breathing and moving — and the parents have that look of relief.”