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Putting Smiles On Faces Of Those In Need Is Goal Of Westport Nonprofit

Bryan Nurnberger, president and founder of Simply Smiles with Ricardo in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Bryan Nurnberger, president and founder of Simply Smiles with Ricardo in Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo Credit: contributed
Samantha Steinmetz, volunteer coordinator, on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation, in South Dakota.
Samantha Steinmetz, volunteer coordinator, on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation, in South Dakota. Photo Credit: contributed
Zachary Gross, senior program manager, on the Reservation during the summer camp programs.
Zachary Gross, senior program manager, on the Reservation during the summer camp programs. Photo Credit: contributed
The Simply Smiles benefit concert will feature Kristen Graves, Peter Yarrow,  and Frank Waln.
The Simply Smiles benefit concert will feature Kristen Graves, Peter Yarrow, and Frank Waln. Photo Credit: Contributed

WESTPORT, Conn. — A concert starring a trio of inspirational musicians will benefit a Westport-based nonprofit that works to bring smiles and improve the lives of the people in the Lakota community in South Dakota.

The Simply Smiles Benefit Concert with Peter Yarrow, Kristen Graves and Frank Waln will be at 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13, at the Quick Center for the Arts at Fairfield University.

“Simply Smiles is a not-for-profit organization that works to provide bright futures for children in Oaxaca, Mexico, and on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota,” said Samantha Steinmetz, the volunteer coordinator at Simply Smiles, which also has offices in Norwalk.

Simply Smiles and its volunteers provide food, clothing, shelter, medical care. education, infrastructure, jobs, hope, and solutions. It was founded in 2003 by Bryan Nurnberger of Southport. While traveling through Mexico scouting places to rock climb, Nurnberger stumbled across a fledgling home for children.

Seeing that kids there were in need, he decided to stay for two months to help. Once Nurnberger returned home, he started Simply Smiles from his kitchen.

“He found that as an individual that he could make a child smile and that the first smile would build confidence and self worth. The first smile can put a kid on the path toward a brighter future," Steinmetz said.

On the reservation, most people are on welfare because there are not enough job opportunities, she said.

Simply Smiles also builds new homes and runs a summer camp program.

“We build pre-fab homes that are very well insulated and very strong to protect against tornado levels winds and storms. The people on the reservations currently live in HUD homes and urban development homes," she said.

Simply Smiles recruits volunteers to go in for a week and work all day — building homes in the morning, running camps in the afternoon and running community events at night.

“We host volunteers of every ability level to spend a week at the reservation, from May through August every year,” Steinmetz said. “Since 2003, we have had about 3,000 volunteers."

The staff at Simply Smiles works year round. “We travel back and forth from the Connecticut office, recruiting volunteers,” she said. “Each year, 300 volunteers join us on the reservation, which is home to 9,000 people."

The nonprofit also provides emergency food and aid. “We are there every step of the way," Steinmetz said.

Simply Smiles recently opened a new home for children, its third, in Oaxaca Mexico.

“What‘s unique about Simply Smiles is that our focus is putting dignity and relationships first to create sustainable change together," Steinmetz said.

“Part of our philosophy is we never just pop into a place and decide what the people who live there need or want," she said. "Instead, we spend time building friendships and relationships first so we can work with the community to really decide together to create longstanding change.”

Yarrow was part of the world-famous folk music group, Peter, Paul & Mary. Graves is a singer/songwriter and humanitarian, and Waln is a Sicangu Lakota hip-hop artist who has been featured on MTV's “Rebel Music.”

Tickets are $45 for Upper Level and $65 for Lower Level. All proceeds will benefit the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation and support Simply Smiles.

The concert will be at Quick Center for the Arts, Fairfield University, 200 Barlow Road, Fairfield.

To buy tickets, click here. For more information on Simply Smiles, click here .

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