A Vessel of the Lord
By Taylor O’Connor
Linda Parker-Smith was going through a dark time in her life. She lost her husband and sister, and then her son took his own life.
It was during that time she felt God’s touch and heard his voice. He says, “Now is the time for smiles,” the Cave Creek resident recalls.
It was her trust in the Lord that brought her to create Smiles and Beyond, a nonprofit that helps incarcerated men and women, and domestic violence survivors, fix their teeth.
Smiles and Beyond has helped nearly 300 men and women, and Parker-Smith could not be prouder. She did it not for herself, but for the Lord and those she serves.
“I have always felt it’s not me. It’s God that’s growing it. He just asked me to be His vessel. And I execute this, and He has allowed me to see all these people that are living this great life.”
After the Lord’s call, Parker-Smith was unsure of the next step. So, Parker-Smith approached church groups, and found she could mentor those in prison. During that time, however, Parker-Smith could not make the time commitment due to her job as a dental consultant.
She brainstormed and liked the idea of working with prisoners, coupled with her 35-plus years’ experience as a dental consultant. She founded Smiles Beyond Bars.
She approached one of the doctors at her office at the time, Mark Peck, and ran the idea by him. Peck loved it and hopped on board to help Parker-Smith pursue her new work.
“I had a $100,000-plus job and I had people working for mem: she says. “I quit everything cold turkey. I had one dentist and three consultants on my staff who asked to meet with me. I told them we were going to continue with any clients we had, but we will not be taking on any others because I was dissolving the company.
“My staff thought I was crazy for giving up my business and doing something that was unknown. However, I knew this was what I had to do.”
So, with that being says, Smiles was born.”
In the early years, Parker-Smith struggled. She almost lost her house and car because of her investment in Smiles. She was not getting paid at the time, but Parker-Smith says she trusted the struggle, God would prevail for her.
The board and Parker-Smith are thrilled the organization took off and is continuing to grow. She is grateful for the work Smiles does and the new life the organization can give the people it serves.
“The common thread with everyone who comes into Smiles and Beyond is they couldn’t quit their addiction without a higher being or the Lord,” Parker-Smith says.
Parker-Smith says Smiles has an application process for its recipients. It’s rigorous and goes deep within what happened over the course of the applicant’s life. The application is complex because the work is expensive, and the organization needs to know the applicant is serious about returning to prison or his/her domestic situation.
Among the requirements: Prospective clients must be out of prison for a year and be a part of a church or religious-based organization. The religion, Parker-Smith stressed, does not matter.
“Statistics tell us 93 percent of people who are in a faith-based organization will not go back to prison. So that’s a big thing for us.
“If all requirements are met, we ask them to have skin in the game in the form of a monthly donation toward the cost of their procedures. If people are investing their money in to the procedure, it will be more valuable,” Parker-Smith adds.
In late February this year, Parker-Smith added the domestic violence survivor aspect to the program.
“I saw the need to help women who are suffering, women who have been beaten and who have lost everything. I went to my board and talked to them about what was on my heart. We talked about it and we all decided we needed to help those women in need.”
This led to the name change to Smiles and Beyond, a revamped website and a new look for the organization. Parker-Smith is beyond satisfied with how things are working out.
“I execute this and He (God) has allowed me to see all these people who are living a normal life. I don’t get paid a lot but it’s a payment more than you can imagine. I get invited to baby showers and bridal showers, graduations and when women get their children back. I’m there because they invited me out there. I am so blessed.”
To raise money for Smiles, Parker-Smith held a gala. But to respect domestic violence survivors, it’s switching to a luncheon on October 2. It will discuss women helping women. Her goal is to have very prominent women whom people as speakers who would not think have been affected by domestic violence.
Along with the fundraiser, the organization relies heavily on donations for its work. As a result, Smiles and Beyond has saved Arizona residents more than $8 million in incarceration fees.
Parker-Smith says their work helps revitalize life, thus inspiring the slogan, “We change lives, one smile at a time.”
For more information, visit smilesandbeyond.org.
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