Give to Lincoln Day 2015

What makes a great city? It’s people! On Thursday, May 28th, we celebrate the power of community by participating in Give To Lincoln Day.

Last year, the Smile Out Loud Foundation had it’s best fundraising day ever as part of the 2014 Give to Lincoln Day. Let’s rally together again this year and show just how generous we can be.

You can help the Smile Out Loud Foundation build momentum, and prove why Lincoln is one of the best places to live!

Here’s just a few things your support will help accomplish in 2015:

  • The Smile Out Loud Foundation will give it’s first $500 scholarship to a dyslexic student attending a Lincoln, Nebraska high school who has been accepted for enrollment at a Nebraska institution of higher education.
  • Raise awareness of Dyslexia by exploring the signs, research, and educational challenges and opportunities through local events, an improved website, social media, and, of course, the constant visibility of David Staenberg – the Free Smile Guy!
  • Partner with other organizations to sponsor tutors and help dyslexic students succeed.

Help the Smile Out Loud Foundation improve the lives of dyslexic youth and receive a share of a $300,000 match fund by making a donation on May 28th.

Go to our profile on the Give to Lincoln website and donate today!

New Book: Learning to Share Your Smile

Having found my smile, my life’s focus has turned to helping others find and unleash their smile. I created the Smile Out Loud Foundation to help bring smiles to Dyslexic youth with college scholarships, and so far I’ve written two books where the proceeds from all sales directly support the this goal.

Learning to Share Your Smile

Over the years I’ve handed out hundreds of thousands of Smile Cards and heard thousands of stories from other people about finding their smile through family, faith, work, hobbies, and experiences. The majority of the stories I’ve heard are not from famous people on prime time television, but every single one has found achievement and happiness in a way that the majority of us can actually relate to, connect with, and learn from.

I am very excited to have the opportunity to compile some of these stories from supporters of the Smile Out Loud Foundation into a collection that we will release later this year in a book titled Learning to Share Your Smile.

We started receiving these written stories in 2014, and as our book gets closer to completion we’ll be sharing some of the books authors as well as excerpts. Once the book is complete, we’ll be offering it for immediate download in our Book Store.


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.

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.


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.