Candles for a Cause

For a little girl who cannot smile, she chooses instead to smile with her heart.

With every purchase from Kenny Kandles, 5-year-old Kendra Cuevas takes one step closer to sharing her first ever smile. 

Kendra was diagnosed with Moebius Syndrome, a rare condition affecting the sixth and seventh cranial nerves responsible for facial movement. As a result, Kendra is affected by facial paralysis, she cannot project a smile or raise her eyebrows.

Despite her difference, Kendra is an incredibly outgoing child involved in everything from dance classes to soccer. Her laughter is contagious, and her happiness radiates from within.

When asked about her condition, Kendra tells others that she smiles from her heart.

“Anybody who knows her, loves her,” her mother, Karla Cuervas, said.

Karla learned of a life-changing surgery that could fix her paralysis and give her daughter the ability to project her emotions. The young mother was hesitant, but said that Kendra helped make her decision after she asked the doctors if the surgery would fix her smile.

According to her doctors, the two-phase surgery would have to be completed before she turned 6 to minimize risk.

When she found out that the surgery came with a $200,000 out-of-pocket cost, she and her husband were prepared to do whatever they needed to see Kendra smile.

Erick Cuevas, her husband, made the tough decision to join the military after discovering that they would have access to insurance that would cover some of the cost. The exact amount it will cover is still unknown.

Kendra hasn’t seen her father in several months while he is in boot camp. She misses her dad, and Karla misses her husband, who she said is her biggest supporter. 

“The main reason he joined was her,” Karla said.

A mother, life coach, radio personality, and lash salon owner, Karla is no stranger to working hard to accomplish her goals. After seeing an Instagram post featuring sculpted candles, she launched Kenny Kandles in October of 2022 to raise money for Kendra’s surgery.

“I chose candles because everyone wants to light up for her,” Karla said.

She was encouraged to just ask for donations, but she wanted to give back to the people supporting her daughter’s journey. Every time one of her candles is lit, she said, it’s lit for Kendra’s dream.

Although Kendra’s peers welcome her with open arms, Karla said that they struggle with adults making comments about her daughter’s appearance. She reached out for help, but said an organization that she attended a meeting for urged parents to isolate and homeschool their children with the condition. 

“They’re asking me to teach my daughter to be shy, to be embarrassed,” Karla said, “It’s not a mistake, or a punishment, that God sent her as my daughter.”

Karla emphasizes teaching self-love and the importance of inner beauty to her daughter, and ensures that Kendra always feels loved.

An additional lack of familial support opened her eyes to how few resources there are for people to educate themselves on Kendra’s condition. She quickly realized that Kenny Kandles could do more than just raise money. 

Situated alongside candles of all shapes and sizes, her website contains information on Moebius Syndrome and the procedure her daughter will hopefully undergo.

Her work won’t stop once Kendra has the surgery, she said. She wants to be a connection to help other parents, educate people, and share Kendra’s message of smiling with her heart. 

“Now I can see how God lives in me,” Karla said.

After Kendra was born, Karla said that she turned into her life’s purpose, and completely changed her worldview.

She said that in her younger days, she wasn’t considerate of others and only sought to look after herself. Now, she looks outward and actively seeks out ways to help as many people as she can. Her giving spirit inspired her to begin the early stages of starting a nonprofit, appropriately named I Smile From My Heart.

She wants to use the nonprofit to offer classes for parents of children with Moebius Syndrome, share information about Kendra’s surgery, and establish a support group built on empowering families.

In the meantime, Karla’s focus is on ensuring that Kendra has the surgery before it becomes too risky. You can show your support for Kendra by visiting their Instagram @kennykandles, or their website at kennykandles.bigcartel.com.

Both Karla and Kendra believe that a smile is a gift, but the best ones come from within.

They ask you, readers, “We can all project a smile, but are you smiling with your heart?”

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