Accomplished philanthropist and advocate for people with disabilities, Linda Smith, most well known for her role as senior executive vice president at Opportunity Village, has made her mark in the world of charitable organizations, having raised almost half a billion dollars in her time there and millions more for nonprofits worldwide.
In 2016, after years of building world-class programs, state-of-the-art campuses and earning international recognition for Opportunity Village, Linda decided it was time to go out on top and resigned from her position. “I had an absolutely terrific time at OV. When I left … not having to work the 12-hour days that I did for 38 years, I had time to actually think about writing the book my friends had been encouraging me to write,” said Linda.
Linda comes from a dynamic past that includes moving from England to Canada, going from homeless to a self-taught dancer/actress/model, a marriage to a Las Vegas Strip performer, living life in both Canada and the U.S., and eventually becoming a fundraising legend. Her memoir, “Unwanted,” launches in March and chronicles her life story of perseverance, survival and success.
While on a plane to Canada at eight months pregnant, the trajectory of Linda’s life was changed: an hour into her flight, she went into labor with her son Christopher who rerouted all her life’s plans. Two hours after landing, Christopher Smith was born with Down syndrome, something that Linda had never expected. “I just knew I was going to have a healthy baby and here came a Down syndrome baby. It changed my life, starting me on a life-long journey to fight for his rights.”
Bringing Christopher into the United States in the 1970s was full of challenges, including him being labeled as an “undesirable alien” by immigration officials at 18 months old. That label led to her storied career in disability activism and ultimately creating a foundation in his honor. The Christopher Smith Foundation was created to provide support and resources to both families and caregivers. “There is a caregiving crisis in the U.S. with 27 million people in need of long-term care. It is hard to find people to look after those with disabilities. Not just disabilities, but seniors also,” said Linda in speaking of our community.
Leaving Opportunity Village gave Linda the opportunity to pursue finishing her book and helping more people and organizations in the world through her consulting business and foundation.
Linda’s role within our community has made an everlasting mark, yet it was one that she would never have wished upon herself. “Were it not for the birth of Christopher, I would probably just be an old dancer. Instead, he changed my life and rocked my world. I feel very privileged to be the mother of Chris, a child, whom at first, I would have given anything to avoid having. It has been an amazing journey, one I would not change.”
The proceeds from Linda’s book will benefit The Christopher Smith Foundation, which helps families and caregivers in our community to receive respite care, volunteer resources and education for those interested in becoming caregivers.
For more information on Linda Smith and “Unwanted,” visit lindaslife.com and follow her at @livelindaslife on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.