Event spreads sweet smiles

She is known for her sweet tooth, but through her efforts abroad, Barrita Durward is known better for the sweet smiles she creates

Vernon’s Barrita Durward with some of the children at one of the Mexican orphanages she annually assists through her annual fundraiser Valentine’s for Mexico

Vernon’s Barrita Durward with some of the children at one of the Mexican orphanages she annually assists through her annual fundraiser Valentine’s for Mexico

As the owner of a local chocolate shop, she is known for her sweet tooth, but through her efforts abroad, Barrita Durward is known better for the sweet smiles she creates.

Durward, owner of Vernon’s Cotton’s Chocolates, travels to Mexico several times a year to build and renovate orphanages and help create a better life for children who have been exploited, abused and abandoned on the streets.

“Last year I went down three times and we finished the bathroom renovations,” said Durward, founder of the Sweet Smiles Association who pays her own way but fundraises for building supplies and scholarships for the children.

This year marks the fifth annual fundraiser, Valentine’s for Mexico, March 14 at 5:30 p.m. at the Vernon Lodge.

The event features a scrumptious dinner and an abundance of fun ways for the community to support the cause while winning some incredible prizes.

Sparkling jewelry, vacations abroad and more await winners of the locked treasure chest, treasure tree, balloon bursts, door prizes, swag bags, silent auction, 50/50 draw and a new addition to this year’s event.

Durward is excited to announce that Okanagan Spring has come on board to give away a locked liquor cabinet.

The event also includes Henna art and a photo booth by Red Door Photography.

All of the proceeds from the event are used to assist two orphanages in Mexico: the City of Angels and House of Hope and Love.

This year the main thrust of the fundraiser is to raise enough to complete construction of a transition house and laundry facility on the campus of orphanage buildings.

This will allow the older children to remain on campus where they can focus on their schooling and creating a better future for themselves, said Durward.

“The transition home is kind of like my big dream come true,” said Durward, who has seen some children leave the orphanage only to end up back on the streets, into drugs and in jail.

Her hope is that the transition house will allow more children to end up like Santiago, the first child to graduate, or Esme, who is earning a degree in tourism.

As part of a thank you for all the support Vernon residents have lent so far, the children abroad have hand-picked special pearls from the markets, which Durward has formed into jewelry to hand out at the event.

Tickets for Valentine’s for Mexico are available at Cotton’s Chocolates ($49 in advance) or at the door ($60).