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Governor Spotlight: Smith Family

By Kelli Walker

Bruce and Janey Smith live with their two children outside of Washington, DC, near Bruce’s parents, Gordon and Helen Smith. The Smith family connected with Opportunity International about 25 years ago and continue to be loyal, committed, and active supporters.

Left to right: The Smith family: Nihl, Janey, Bruce, Lillian
Left to right: The Smith family: Nihl, Janey, Bruce, Lillian

Bruce’s father, Gordon, owned a savings and loan bank in Virginia that led to his involvement in opening banking operations in the Philippines in the 2000’s. Gordon spent a great deal of time in the Philippines, serving on the bank’s board, providing leadership and guidance. A second bank opened on the Filipino island of Iloilo; Bruce served on the board of directors for that bank.

A passion—and compassion—grew in both Gordon and Bruce for the people of the Philippines. Bruce worked with Opportunity International to launch a unique and impactful scholarship opportunity: children of Opportunity International’s microfinance clients could secure a scholarship, funded by the Smith Foundation, to attend the university of their choice in Manilla. Thanks to the Smiths’ vision, strong partnerships, and the students’ commitment, more than 60 students attended university. Years later, one graduate—and now her husband and child—still visit the Smiths when they can.

That impact alone—on generations of industrious Filipino families—might be enough for a family to say, “We’ve done our part.” Not the Smiths. Through their family foundation, they continue to turn their beliefs into tangible support for Opportunity’s global initiatives including the Philippines, Colombia, Nicaragua, and women and children around the world.

Left to right: Helen and Gordon Smith with Brian Olarte, a former Opportunity International/AGAPE staffer, and Janey and Bruce Smith
Left to right: Helen and Gordon Smith with Brian Olarte, a former Opportunity International/AGAPE staffer, and Janey and Bruce Smith

And if your heart has grown a couple of sizes as you read about the Smith family’s commitment, wait until you learn how Opportunity played a role in a very personal part of this family.

Thanks to his involvement in Opportunity International, Bruce offered to host a gathering in support of Opportunity at his DC condo. He’d met Janey volunteering at an inner-city school in DC. Janey was—and is—a gifted interior designer. He asked if she might help get his condo ready for the upcoming gathering.

Janey worked her professional magic on the condo and attended the gathering, where Opportunity International’s Vice President of Philanthropy Lillian Covington shared her story of transformation—a deeply inspiring story of family, faith, and hard work. Janey was inspired that night, and felt the shared “joy, enthusiasm, hope.”

Not only did Janey brighten up the condo, she brightened up Bruce’s life and they started dating shortly thereafter. Fast-forward a few years, Bruce and Janey married and welcomed two children. And might you guess what they named their beautiful, smart, compassionate daughter? Lillan!

Opportunity continues to be woven in the fabric of the Smith family. Janey shared the book One Hen by Katie Smith Milway with her children’s kindergarten classes. Lillian and her brother, Nihl, have been attending Opportunity events as they grow up. The Smiths took a Family Insight Trip to Nicaragua several years ago. They spent time at Opportunity’s Emprendedora School and Lodge. During their stay, young Nihl met Henry, a Nicaraguan student and intern at the Lodge. While they didn’t share a common language, they found a way to connect—like most young people do. That encounter made a lasting impression on Nihl.

What keeps Bruce and his family involved in Opportunity? Bruce shares, “Instead of imposing what we might think is ‘right’ for local people in need, Opportunity researches local challenges, listens to our clients, and identifies solutions. In Nicaragua, for instance, we heard from local people the need for better ag practices, a yucca processing facility, and education in income-generating jobs like tourism and ag. And those current programs are going strong, producing measurable results.” As a businessperson, Bruce recognizes Opportunity’s sustainable business model: enabling people living in poverty to have access to the training, support, and financial services they need to build sustainable livelihoods.

The Smiths—now three generations—are committed to walking alongside the people we serve. We are grateful for their open hearts and minds, for their hard work and dedication. They are rooted in family, lifted by service to others.

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