Takes a Leap of Faith and Makes a DifferenceWhile growing up on a potato farm outside of Bath, Pennsylvania, Emily Smith never imagined her life in Las Vegas. Today, Smith is the executive director for Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation, advocating for children with visual impairments and working with their families and the community.
Her journey began when the family relocated to Phoenix when Smith was 10 years old. After high school, Smith received a full music scholarship to attend the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, as a music performance major, playing percussion and bass guitar.
Smith also sang, and began to play lounges and showrooms in Las Vegas and, soon after, around the world. While pursuing a music career, Smith met her husband during a New Year’s Eve gig. After getting married and starting a family, she chose to stay home with her children during their early years. “When I decided to make a career change and go into the nonprofit sector, I went back to school and earned my bachelor of science in marketing and business administration,” she explained.
“During this time, my daughter became involved with Girl Scouts and I soon found myself an engaged volunteer, but I knew I could do more. I called up the CEO and invited her to lunch. We talked about the organization for a long time—its past, its current challenges and its future. With no background in nonprofit and no experience, I told the CEO I really wanted to work for her and I was confident I could help to move the organization to that desired future state. She wasn’t even hiring at the time, but I proposed she hire me as her development director, and if I didn’t make my annual salary back within the first three months, I would leave the organization.”
Two weeks later, Smith accepted her first job in nonprofit. “I owe my start in nonprofit to her taking that leap of faith,” she said. Smith would work for Girl Scouts for 10 years before moving on.
Along with her love of children (especially her own two children), Smith loves animals. In fact, along with her dog Buddy, they are a certified therapy dog team with Therapy Dogs Inc. In addition to visiting patients at senior centers and skilled nursing facilities, Buddy comes to work with Smith at NBCF. “The kids read to him during our BookTime Buddies program and he loves our toddler class. He lays down and lets the kids climb all over him.”
According to Smith, her work at NBCF provides some of her most rewarding experiences. “Our atmosphere is very homey and our staff are all very close friends,” she said. “Buddy can frequently be found roaming the halls or snoring behind my desk. We really get to know each of our kids and their families. We can see their growth, share in their successes, and be reminded on a regular basis that the work we’re doing today is changing their futures and not just in small ways or in ways that fit trending topics and buzzwords for nonprofits today.
“Nevada is one of a handful of states that does not have a school for the blind. There is no other organization that provides the services NBCF does for visually impaired students in our community. The legacy of the work we are doing today is to build a school that will provide comprehensive services including: education, recreation, health care, advocacy, parent and family support, and employment/workforce development for all visually impaired children in our community.
“I can’t think of anything that would be more rewarding than to know you’ve had that kind of impact on somebody’s life,” she stated. Emily Smith continues to demonstrate the qualities of a Fearless Female.