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Family creates ‘Gift a Smile’ program for Hampden, Holy Spirit medical center patients, families and employees

When Robert “Bob” Kalbach Jr. needed a reason to fight harder or find a smile during his battle with cancer, he looked at a life-size cutout of his 18-month-old granddaughter, Sarah.

He kept it standing on the windowsill by his hospital bed. Her bright little face would give him an instant boost.

The family decided that since Sarah could not be there in person all the time, to cheer up her “pop pop,” they would bring the next best thing. The family took a photo of their beaming daughter and enlarged it to a small-scale cutout. Before long, that act of love would result in a collaboration to bring the gift of a smile to other patients.

When nurses and other members of Bob’s care team came in, they remarked about the smiling little girl. She showed every little tooth in a grin, and brought a positive presence to the room, they said. The pandemic had worn the nurses and hospital employees thin. That cutout of Bob’s granddaughter, and the cutouts and photos that followed, lifted their spirits too.

One day, Bob and his family discussed the possibility of making cutouts available for other patients who could benefit from seeing a smile from a loved one or the familiar face of their favorite pet.

Liberty Excavators, a business owned by Bob’s son, Robert “Robb” Kalbach III, would donate funds to start up an initiative, so patients or family members could upload a photo and quickly get a small-scale cutout for the patient’s room. “Why not deliver some inspiring, natural medicine to others facing tough times and long hospital stays? Donate a smile, to create a smile,” the family said.

When a person smiles, the brain releases tiny molecules called neuropeptides to help fight off stress. Other neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and endorphins also react. The endorphins act as a mild pain reliever and the serotonin is an antidepressant. A study by the Association of Psychological Science suggests that smiling can help us recover faster from stress and reduce our heart rate. Robb speaks passionately about the power of smiles and has suggested a study on the cost-benefit impact of the cutouts on patient morale.

Devon Sprenkle, director of development, and Gretchen Ramsey, regional director of Patient and Volunteer Engagement, worked with Robb to make the idea a reality. With a donation from Liberty Excavators the “Gift a Smile” program was born. Patients at Hampden and Holy Spirit medical centers can now order a cutout made from a paper that can be wiped down and sterilized, safe for their hospital room. Gifts to further support the “Gift a Smile” program can be made here.

The family sees Gift a Smile as a Silver Lining to their journey alongside Bob, as he fought a brutal disease.

Bob passed away from cancer, with his family by his side, in the spring of 2022, at the age of 68.

“While dad’s health deteriorated, we found the enlarged cutout of Sarah kept all our spirits up. Seeing Dad advocating for other patients to receive Gift a Smile,” while he was terminally ill, was especially inspiring,” Robb said.

Bob’s picture with the cutout, while being discharged from one of his many hospital visits, appears on the flyer promoting the “Gift a Smile” program.

Support for programs like “Gift a Smile” advance the University’s historic land-grant mission to serve and lead. Through philanthropy, alumni and friends are helping students to join the Penn State family and prepare for lifelong success; driving research, outreach and economic development that grow our shared strength and readiness for the future; and increasing the University’s impact for families, patients, and communities across the Commonwealth and around the world. Learn more by visiting

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