Year in Review

Youth using digital tablets in school.

Imagine trying to thrive in a demanding text and email-based society when every letter is a puzzle and each word a maze.

Perhaps you or your loved ones face these same daily challenges and that is what inspired you to become involved in Smile Out Loud Foundation. We are filled with gratitude for your support.

Please let us share with you the success of 2014 and our opportunities in 2015.

Our Purpose

  • To have a significant impact on the lives of dyslexic youth.
  • Provide small scholarships for college bound dyslexic youth to help defray the cost of books and materials as they enter higher education.
  • Encourage entrepreneurial educators into dyslexic tutoring so the field of providers may widen and impact more youth.

Successful Action in 2014

  • Fundraising-Smile Out Loud had a record year for individual contributions enabling us to launch our first scholarship in Spring 2015.
  •  David Staenberg published his second book Unleashing Your Smile.
  • Smile Out Loud sponsored training enabling a qualified tutor to begin impacting the dyslexic community.

Ahead in 2015

  • Development of scholarship application and selection criteria with a goal to grant our first college scholarship to a dyslexic student in May 2015.
  • Collaborate with other nonprofit agencies to identify and train new tutors.
  • Development of program assessments to measure effectiveness.

How YOU can help.

The Smile Out Loud Foundation is a 501c3 non-profit organization. All contributions are 100% tax deductible!

  • Donate to the Lincoln Community Foundation and designate your donation to the David Staenberg Scholarship Fund.
  • Fund training-$250 provides a trained tutor to work directly with dyslexic youth.
  • Buy and instantly download David’s books . All proceeds go directly to Smile Out Loud Foundation.

Thank you for sharing our blessings through your continuing support of this important work.

Warm regards,

David Staenberg

 

Smile Out Loud Foundation

Homeless

The story below is an excerpt from my upcoming book “Finding My Smile”. Profits from the sale of my books directly support the Smile Out Loud Foundation.

Linda wanted to finish college before we got married, but I wasn’t willing to wait six years. We compromised on four. While Linda worked on her degree, I finished my bachelor’s and began working at a homeless shelter in Omaha.

Siena/Francis House

The Siena/Francis House treated and assisted people living on the streets. Most were on some sort of substance or were mentally ill, which meant that my work was to counsel people on a variety of levels. In my little office in the basement of the old Jewish Funeral Home, I’d meet with people in all sorts of challenging places in their lives. Everyone was on the streets, many were abusing substances. I had never counseled addicts right off the street before, nor women. On the learning curve of a first professional job, I needed to be creative. A coffin was still stored in one of the old mortuary freezers. I’d use it as a resource for illustrating my point.

“If you keep using,” I’d say, walking out from behind my desk. “You will end up in one of these. Believe me. I’ve been there.”

“That’s not funny,” they’d say. But they’d understand my point.

Some people, though, didn’t want to be helped. They just wanted to be heard. There was one afternoon when a man came down into my office to see me. He had a gun on him and was high as a kite. I sat, terrified, in my chair for seven hours and talked to the man, all the while staring down the barrel of the gun. Finally, one of my coworkers realized that I was missing, and hadn’t been seen or heard from in several hours. He came down into my office to check on me.

“What’s going on down here?” He asked.

I looked him fervently in the eyes. “Oh, Jim here is telling me his life’s story. He’s got a gun with him.”

Immediately, my coworker realized what to do. “Jim, why are you holding a gun on David? He’s willing to listen without you using your gun. Why don’t you let me have that?”

We discovered that the gun wasn’t loaded, but the situation really scared me. From then on, someone from the main building kept tabs on me every hour.

The people at Siena/Francis House were very good people. One woman, Sister Stephanie, taught me how to really love the poor and to trust God. There was one night in particular that I just couldn’t disbelieve in God’s plan. It was a very cold night. The shelter had been in the habit of giving away blankets on nights such as that one to make sure that even those who couldn’t stay on the shelter’s premises could stay warm. Sadly, we had run very low on blankets because we had given away so many. Sister Stephanie came in from outside and urgently requested a blanket.

“There’s a guy out there. He needs a blanket!”

One of the guys who managed the supplies just looked at her as though she were crazy. “We can’t give away any more blankets. We don’t even have enough to cover the beds we have!”

“You don’t understand,” she pleaded. “This guy needs the blanket. If we give one away, ten more will come. I promise.”

They went back and forth over the blanket for quite some time. Ultimately Sister Stephanie won. No more than an hour had passed before there was a knock at the door. Several women from a local church came in towing fifty quilts of the finest quality. They wanted to donate the blankets to Siena/Francis House to support our work. Sister Stephanie graciously took the blankets and looked at her arguing partner.

“See. God always provides.”

I loved my work at the Siena/Francis House, and I learned a lot. But as time went on I received a job offer from Richard Young Hospital to help develop a counseling program for youths. I had always wanted to work with teens and children, and this seemed to be my chance. I couldn’t say no. So I said goodbye to all of my coworkers and mentors, hoping that we would always be friends. They had helped me maintain my smile, and I was forever in their debt.

You can support the Smile Out Loud Foundation and scholarships for dyslexic youth by purchasing my books here.

Thank you.

David

Freedom

The story below is an excerpt from my upcoming book “Finding My Smile”. Profits from the sale of my books directly support the Smile Out Loud Foundation.

The beauties of the Wolf House were innumerable. Seeing the men get their lives back, watching as they matured into citizens who could be part of the community again, was the most smile-generating experience imaginable. Through our one-on-one meetings, our group sessions, our communal projects, and simply building relationships, I’d encounter the unique story of each of these men and watch as his story continued to evolve. In their successes I would discover the power of a person to remake himself and to turn his life around. It was beautiful beyond belief.

But the Wolf House also sucked away my smile. I was the only full-time employee of the House, and as the state decided to establish more locations, I became responsible for more men and more tasks. Daily I would manage the finances, stock the food, offer counseling, and monitor the success of nearly seventy-five men. Juggling so many details for one house was a handful, but as the Wolf House network grew, so did the size of my responsibility. My extremism hadn’t diminished over the years, so rather than share some of the chores, I carried everything by myself. That meant commuting between the three Wolf Houses an hour at a time, six times a day.

At first everything seemed possible. I could administer the houses and work with the men to get through all of the daily tasks. When I began to have to testify in court regarding the Wolf House’s success or as a reference for my clients, the number of duties increased. Rather than spend any quality time in any given spot, I continuously moved from one job to the next. I wore the hat of the boss, night watchman, delivery man, witness, social worker, and counselor. To allow myself time enough to accomplish my tasks, I would conduct business in the car as I ate drive-thru fast food. Mountain Dew and beef jerky kept me awake and energized. As the months passed, I gained over two-hundred pounds.

Linda worried about my sleeping habits as well. On any given day something out of the ordinary would come up and disrupt what little routine I had. Sleep would invariably take the last priority. Often I would end up getting home at nearly 6 in the morning, only to catch a few hours of sleep before beginning again. Linda would do what she could to foster my rest. Some days she would refuse to wake me and would turn off my cell phone after I had fallen asleep. When I woke up to learn how much time had passed, she’d simply answer my challenges with a shrug that said she didn’t mind being the bad guy if it meant I got some shuteye. She knew that I ran on empty, occasionally falling asleep even on the road. And she worried about me.

My doctor used to sit me down with a threatening voice. “David, you’re going to need to lose the weight,” he’d warn.

“How much weight?” I’d ask.

“Two-hundred-fifty pounds, at least.”

I’d laugh. “How will I lose that much weight?”

“You put it on,” he’d say with a shrug. “Now get it off.”

I attempted to follow his advice at the same time as working for the men of the Wolf House. One solution I created was to ride a bike across the state of Nebraska to raise money for our program. With Drexel in tow, we got publicity and funding from every town we stopped in. I had trained enough in advance so that the two of us managed to ride across the state in eleven days. When it was over, I looked at Drexel. “We’re going to do it in half the time next year,” I said. He laughed at me, but when we managed the trip in five days the next year, I was the one laughing.

Unfortunately, our bike riding wasn’t enough to get the weight off, and I hadn’t changed my schedule enough to eat healthier. Instead, I downed more Mountain Dew and juggled more balls in the air.
It came back to kick me in the butt.

“So mine’s a bit high?”

I was having trouble with my vision. First, things were simply blurry. Then I started seeing bright starbursts everywhere I looked. I spoke to one of my clients about it. He said that his mother was a nurse and that he’d ask her advice. When she told him to bring me in immediately, I knew something was wrong.

As I brought her son over for a day visit she tested my blood sugar. When she saw the results, she just stared at me.

“David, you’re blood sugar is over 800!”

I shrugged. “So? What’s normal?”

“Between 60 and 100.”

I chuckled. “So mine’s a bit high?”

She didn’t appreciate my joke. “David, you have to go to the hospital. We have to get your blood sugar down.”

I looked at her as though she had three heads. “I can’t go to the hospital. I barely have enough time to be here right now.”

“If you don’t get your blood sugar down, you’ll die.” She injected me with insulin to begin to lower my sugar levels. Then she explained to me how to use an insulin pen. “Go to the doctors as soon as you can. They can put you on a pill to keep your blood sugar even, but you’ll have to use insulin to get your numbers down. Have your wife give you this shot when you get home.” I followed her directions and then, later, the doctor’s. I had never expected things to get that bad.

Being diagnosed as a diabetic made me much more conscientious about what the Wolf House was doing to me. It had become the love of my life—every day, being at the Wolf House and witnessing the transformation the guys experienced through their stay gave me an astounding satisfaction. My smiles were never as big as they were while I toiled for those men’s success. But the Wolf House drained me a bit more every day. It required every ounce of devotion and creativity I could provide, which meant that there was less for my wife and family. I realized that I was dying because of it.

Mexico

So I decided to take a month away from the House. Linda and I and a few of our close friends decided to go on a cruise along the coast of Mexico. Harold and Judy, our travel companions, were several years older than Linda and I. Seeing their relationship and the amount of time they spent together cast a shadow on the limited time I had allotted for Linda. Harold’s zeal for life also revealed how faded I had become through my work. Love Wolf House as I may, love was not enough.

When I returned from that trip, the final straw broke. I knew I had to quit: I had begun to dream of using alcohol again. Linda and I had made a deal when we got married that if I ever drank or used drugs again she would have to leave me. So when I woke up one morning after our trip to Mexico and found myself yearning for a drink, I knew that it would either be the Wolf House or Linda. I couldn’t stay sober if I continued working there, and I couldn’t have Linda if I wasn’t sober.

For as much as I loved the Wolf House, I couldn’t do it anymore. I notified the board of directors and quit. As I walked away, I didn’t know if I’d ever smile again. Yet, I had my smile cards, knew that I had changed many people’s lives, and trusted God that things would get better. Whether it was through the smile cards or sheer will, I would rediscover my happiness. Everything else in life proved that it was possible. And I was certain it would happen again.

You can support the Smile Out Loud Foundation and scholarships for dyslexic youth by purchasing my books here.

Thank you.

David

Sharing My Smile

The story below is an excerpt from my upcoming book “Finding My Smile”.

After the Wolf House

Life after the Wolf House changed drastically. Harold died, I began working as an assistant manager at Walmart, and I began to lose weight. Losing Harold showed me how short life was and how to cling on to what I truly loved. Walmart introduced me to leadership even against the crowd, and losing weight revealed my power to live healthy with the one life I had.

While I was on route to Harold’s wake I received a call from my brother, asking me why I hadn’t applied to Walmart. When I explained that I had and hadn’t heard anything from them, he told me to hold the line and wait for their call. A few minutes later, the regional director called me to offer me a job working as their assistant manager for a new site. The job would keep me local to Linda and allow me the opportunity to use my managerial experience. I accepted the offer.

Working for Walmart

At the time working for Walmart was an exercise in patience. So often my coworkers offered counter-intuitive advice: “Don’t be friends with the associates,” the other managers would tell me. “They are the workers, you’re the manager.”

“But they work harder if they see me working, and they do a better job when I’m not around if they respect me when I am around,” I’d explain. That initial discrepancy between how my managers managed and how I managed seemed to mark my entire experience with the company. All too often I would be challenged for simply treating my employees with respect. Many of the associates in the different stores had been with Walmart for decades. They knew the ins and outs about what worked better than anyone else, including the managers. I’d ask their advice and would build upon their recommendations whenever I could. If we succeeded, we’d share the success. The associates appreciated my attentiveness because they were able to approach me when they had new and creative ideas. I appreciated them all the more for making management easier. It was a fantastic situation.

Unfortunately, the other managers didn’t appreciate my approach. Frequently I would be undermined for the sake of diminishing my enthusiasm. The general manager of my store specifically didn’t like me. She cut my strings as an assistant manager in training earlier than traditionally allowed, and assigned me solo managing positions within my first three months on the job. I had to learn all of the ropes as quickly as possible, which meant that I was often building off of my intuition and marketing experience. When I’d turn to her for assistance, she’d simply glare at me. “My plate is full, David,” she’d tell me. “Don’t come to me with this stuff.”

I learned very early on how to smile despite the difficult surroundings. After the Wolf House, simply having enough rest and time with Linda was cause to smile. I was getting healthier too, which relieved me enough to let my smiles actually mean something. Every day, as I walked around the floor of Walmart, I’d pass out my smile cards and extend that happiness to others. Many appreciated the cards; my managers did not. I didn’t mind. Being happy and bringing happiness to others was more important than other’s opinions of me. Life is a lesson enough in that truth for all of us.

Knee Surgery

Unfortunately, sometimes the things that we’ve done in the past come back to snatch away our smiles in the present. After the injuries to my knee from my army days and the excess weight I had carried throughout my years at the Wolf House, walking the large market floor in Walmart destroyed what was left of my knee. We had just gotten a new manager at my site, a great man who actually respected his associates and staff, so when my knee gave out I was allowed some time to get healthy before returning to work. This new manager even recognized the power of a smile and helped me spread the joy.

Surgery and then recovery took the wind out of my sails for a solid three months. When I finally thought I could continue to live my life, I discovered that God had other plans: My knee got infected, and the doctors discovered that they had put the wrong size joint in during surgery. I returned to the hospital, to the bed, to the wheelchair. And my smile began to fade again.

There are certain points in life that change our tone and reflection upon the past, present, and future. Living in a wheelchair for a year gave me a new recognition of what it meant to smile. Life had never been easy for me: I have battled against a learning disability, have been abused, have struggled through addictions and then sobriety, have stood beside men facing down their demons, and have lost my happiness to exhaustion and obesity. Sitting alone in a wheelchair for days at a time with little besides an infrequent visitor to break up the monotony brought to mind all of the missed opportunities in my life. How many smiles had I let slip by, how many negatives had I let take root in my self awareness. Sitting alone brought to mind the moments when my smile had failed me. Sitting alone brought to mind the moments when I had failed my smile.
I determined never to let it happen again.

In the year as a broken and lonely person, I discovered what it truly means to love oneself and to let the love of God heal one completely. Too much had happened to me in life to be willing to remain trapped in my past. I wouldn’t be beholden to sadness or regret any longer. With my smile cards in hand and with a renewed vigor for life to share with the world, I have become a man devoted to bringing cheer to everyone. None of us have to remain trapped in sadness. A single smile from within or shared with another can make all the difference in the world. I have survived every challenge in my life and I am still smiling. It is the only thing any of us really can do to change the world.

I’ve had a lot of negative people and things in my life – some I have been responsible for putting in my life, and others that have been placed in my life through no fault of my own. These people and things did cause me harm, but I made the choice to rise from the ashes and be stronger than that. With the help of God and strong men and women, I’ve been fortunate enough to push forward on the journey of life toward a brighter tomorrow. A tomorrow filled with smiles.

I would like to show others how they too, can alter their perspective and create a brighter tomorrow for themselves, and for others. I hope that in the end, they find their smile as well.

Speaking Engagements

I’m excited to share this message and would be happy to come and speak to your group. Please contact me to discuss how I can help your organization find and share smiles.

A Place to Grow

The story below is an excerpt from my upcoming book “Finding My Smile”.

Good Luck

When a man gets out of prison he is handed $100 and told “Good luck.” The first day out generally goes something like this: With the hundred dollars in hand, the first stop is McDonalds. Prison food is notoriously bad, so the guy will blow upwards of $15 just trying all sorts of better food at the fast food chain. Once he’s full, he’ll likely head to the nearest Wal Mart to buy a pair of non-prison jeans (meaning jeans a person could actually move in). There goes another $40. If he has family in the area, the man will go home to say hello. Almost immediately a family member will ask if he has any money. He’ll be forced to hand it over to help support the family. If that’s not the case—if he’s not asked to fund the family—he’ll likely take his family out to dinner to celebrate the release. What’s left of the money he was handed that morning will disappear, and he’ll be staring at day two broke, jobless, and back in the environment that first allowed him to commit a crime. If he used to use drugs or alcohol, there’s very little room or inspiration to stay sober. He’ll relapse and likely end up back in prison.

My grandmother, Rebecca Wolf, used to always tell me, “You can become whatever you want, David. Don’t ever let anyone ever tell you otherwise. You can do it.” With her voice of encouragement ever present in my mind, I decided that what I wanted to do was to help these men stay out of prison. I wanted to create a lifeline that would protect them from relapsing back into the system. Which is where the Wolf House began.

The Wolf House

My mother sponsored us with our first $1000. Building upon her donation, I got state and community sponsors who would help me establish a halfway-house to support former inmates getting back on their feet and back into the community.

Three weeks before a man’s release, I met with him in the prison and explained what was about to happen. I told him about the $100 and how quickly it disappeared. I told him about the relapse rates and the risks of going it alone too quickly. Then, I offered him a solution: once he left prison, he would come straight to the Wolf House—no family visits, no restaurant stops. His $100 would become his down payment for the first month of room and board at the Wolf House. He could visit with his family—under supervision—for an hour in the house. They would be informed that once that visit was over, he would not be able to see them again until he had found a job and been approved by the Wolf House community to get a day pass to leave the house. If the family needed food supplies, the Wolf House would offer them access to the pantry until the father’s income could help keep the family alive.

After the family visit, he’d be allowed out of the house only to look for a job—and another man would be assigned as a job-hunting partner to keep everyone honest. Every night there would be group counseling meetings to allow the men time to talk and digest what had happened that day. If he needed special sorts of counseling, say, for gambling addictions or sex addictions, he’d be allowed to attend those specialized meetings. Otherwise, his time would be restricted to the Wolf House until the Wolf House community decided that he had earned day or 24 hour passes. Of the income from his job, $360 would go towards paying his room and board expenses. After six months of rehabilitation back into society, the man would be released into the larger community and be on his own to live by the laws and maintain the rules of his parole. Through the structure of the Wolf House, though, the chances for his success were in his favor. If he did well, he’d likely never go back to prison.

For the men who decided to join the Wolf House community, the experience was both trying and rewarding. A halfway-house must have structure and accountability, much like prison. Men who acted out or violated the rules were not tolerated. They’d be reported to their parole officers and sent back to prison. If anyone mistreated those in the community, he’d be restricted in his freedoms when it came time for issuing a day-pass. I was responsible for these men’s success, which I took very seriously. Every night I would check to make sure that they were asleep in their beds, looking for the whites of their eyes before I could validate their presence. As trying as these rules were to the men, if they stuck it out I would do everything in my power to ensure their success. From job references to court appeals, I’d make sure that they were well represented.

The Wolf House’s success could not be denied. Soon we had men placed through the state and federal courts, through rehab centers, and simply through word of mouth. Some men came to us before prison in the hopes that Wolf House could get them clean and prevent them from spiraling downwards once they entered the system. Other men were coming to us without prison time sentenced. They just needed to get clean and needed our structure to manage the process. Very soon, we had three separate locations.

I was the sole full-time employee of The Wolf House, but a good friend of mine, Drexel, became my right hand man. A former heroin addict and alcoholic, Drexel had survived being shot, overdosing, and nearly being crushed to death during an arrest. His family had even bought him a burial plot, certain that he would die before he turned 30. With his good fortune, though, he became a man convicted that he should be helping others. Drexel kept our assorted locations going, and kept our men honest. And he loved his job, loved helping the other guys get their lives back together. He was my greatest support in the house, and he kept all of us going.

As with the Wolf House, I started the Smile Out Loud Foundation to help people succeed. You can support the Smile Out Loud Foundation, and scholarships for youth with dyslexia, by making a tax deductible contribution or by buying my books (100% of the proceeds support the Smile Out Loud Foundation).

Thank you.

David

The Birth of Smile Cards

I have handed out nearly 200,000 smile cards. These small, business card-sized pieces of paper have magical effects on other people – bringing smiles to even the most sour individuals. So with 200,000 cards, that’s 200,000 smiles I’ve shared with others. Just think of how many people those smiles have impacted! And that’s just one man’s work. What if we all made it our mission to bring smiles to everyone we meet?

The story below is an excerpt from my upcoming book “Finding My Smile” and explains the origins of the Smile Cards which have brought me many new relationships and are the calling card of the Smile Out Loud Foundation.

Smiles are hard to come by in our society. There’s enough hardship and pain to stop a lot of people from smiling. Nine months of being sick sucked away my smile, but I rediscovered it in helping others. Ever since AA I had learned the significance of taking care of other people and putting them first. Working as a counselor meant that I had the opportunity to help people every day of my life. I loved that sort of work.

Once I got healthy again, I applied for a job working at the Nebraska Correctional Treatment Center. When the state hired me, they had me write a relapse prevention program that would help men stay clean. With relapse prevention, the goal is to teach individuals how to stop an undesired behavior. Showing people their own weaknesses or temptations, my program would foster independent lifestyles free of destructive behaviors. A challenging task, I was given enough freedom to really get creative. Or so I thought.

The first problem came in determining what to call our patients. Since they were all in the NCTC instead of prison, there was a certain logic to calling them inmates. But I was adamant to my boss and coworkers that we wouldn’t be able to reframe the men’s thinking if we continued to call them ‘inmates.’ They would just respond to this program as every other intervention they had experienced throughout their lives. Instead, I insisted they be called ‘clients.’ The term referenced their dignity and made the process of rehabilitation seem more like a personal choice. Something as simple as what they were called could be the difference between simply getting through the program and getting clean for life.

Treatment

Having gone through my own drug and alcohol dependence, and having studied and worked in the field for years, I recognized that one of the first steps to getting through to these guys would be to help them grow up. The first step to that, though, was to show them that they were currently children. One day I brought in two tubs of sidewalk chalk. I had carried it in through the metal detectors and security checks, had walked through the halls with the tubs in plain sight. I brought it all the way through the building and to the community of clients waiting for a session.

The men noticed the tubs and asked me about them. “How many of you guys have kids?” I asked. A few raised their hands. “How many of your kids have sidewalk chalk?” Of the fathers, many kept their hands up. “Oh good. So you know how this works. We’re going to draw on the sidewalk with chalk today.” There were groans around the room from guys who thought it was a ridiculous exercise.

“Hey, look here,” I said. “You guys have been kids all of your lives. When you committed crimes you were being kids, when you had sex you were being kids, when you relapsed you were being kids. If you’re going to act like kids, I’m going to treat you like kids.” I handed out the chalk and explained their assignments. “Here’s the deal: getting to know yourselves as kids, I want you to take this chalk and draw on the sidewalk around you. You need to draw pictures of your relapse signs, those things that warn you that you are about to relapse.”

At first, my clients were not interested…

As they spent more time with their artwork and as they got more accustomed to reflecting on their experiences, they began to realize new things about themselves. They grew into their own experiences and became self aware. “Remember these warning signs, guys,” I’d tell them, “next time you find yourselves wanting to relapse.”

The exercise was a big success. That is, until one of the lieutenants from the correctional facilities saw what we had done. He came roaring into my office carrying the pieces of chalk. Every word he screamed sizzled with anger. I looked at my officemates and smiled, surprised by the LT’s fury. “What’s the matter?” I asked, barely able to smother my laughter.

“Who told you you could do that outside?” he roared.

“No one. It was an exercise for the guys.”

“What did you use?” he shouted, getting angrier by the second.

“Sidewalk chalk,” I replied, not grasping why he was so angry.

The LT didn’t care. He forced me to see the warden. The man didn’t even knock on the warden’s door or mind the fact that the warden was in a phone meeting. He simply marched inside, dragging me along, and began explaining everything. The warden murmured something to the person on the other line, and got off the phone.

“Now what is this all about?” he asked.

The lieutenant continued on and on without stopping about how I had done this and I had done that. He was wagging the large piece of sidewalk chalk in his hand all the while. Neither the warden nor I could completely follow all of the things he said, but the gist of it was, “Wolf screwed up!”

I tried very hard to remain silent, but seeing how worked up the LT was about sidewalk chalk nearly made me fall out of my chair with laughter. I laughed even harder when the warden tried to signal a time out from the LT so he could have me explain the situation. Finally he gave up on silencing the lieutenant and looked directly at me.

“What did you do that got the LT so angry?”

“Do you have kids, sir?”

“You know I do,” the warden replied.

“Do they ever write on the sidewalk with chalk?” I asked. The warden nodded. “What do you do when they’re done?” I asked, not making a big deal of the situation.

“Wash it off,” the warden replied.

“Why am I being screamed at then?” I was shaking my head at the ridiculousness.

The warden turned his attention to the lieutenant. “So what did David do?”

“He took the chalk and drew all over the sidewalks,” the officer said, finally calm enough for listeners to understand.

“Who drew?” the warden asked me.

“The clients. They drew their relapse signs.” I explained the different stages of the person—their adult and child stages. Then I said, “I got our clients into their Child and had them draw their relapse signs.”

After the exercise, I had had the men fill out reviews of the experience, so I handed the stack of reviews to the warden. He began to smile as he read through everything. The guys had been wild with enthusiasm. The warden looked at me.

“This is great David!”

But we’re going to need to do something here to make sure that you two don’t come bursting into my office again. David, I want you to go around with the LT for a month. You’re going to do all the same things he does and see all the things he sees. You’re going to need to learn what it’s like to work on the correctional side of things here.”

He then turned to the LT. “Lieutenant, when David is leading group work, I want you to sit in. You both need to know what each other does.”

I didn’t mind the assignment, but I could tell the LT did. He was not interested in learning to help these guys. Just in controlling them.

The idea for Smile Cards

It began as a personal project: one of the men I treated refused to smile. No joke, no compliment, no success could reach him. I used to go home at the end of the day and just bemoan the situation to Linda. How could I get him to smile? What could I do to reach him?

Finally, I decided to create a small card that I would hand the man to entitle him to a smile. Linda helped me type the cards up, and we printed them out on homemade cards. The next morning, I returned to NCTC ready with a final attempt. Before our group session began, I pulled the man aside.

“I have something for you,” I stated simply. Handing him the simple card that read “This card entitles you to a free smile,”

I held my breath for his reaction. A miracle happened before my eyes: he smiled. From that moment on I understood how significant a smile could be. And I began my mission to spread them around the world.

With all of the success of the NCTC program, I still recognized that there was more to be done. After the state took my program and tried to replicate it elsewhere, I began to turn my attention to helping men stay clean after prison. Successful though we may be within the walls, there were limitations to our work, limitations that dumped the men out of our program the day they were released and set them up to fail every single time. I wanted to help men recover and stay sober. I wanted to respond to that need. So with my smile cards in hand and a plan in mind, I began a new chapter of my life.