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Top Opportunity Village executive Linda Smith recently retired from the Las Vegas charity where she started as a volunteer 36 years ago.
In between, she raised nearly a half-billion dollars for the nonprofit that serves those with intellectual disabilities. She developed some of its best-known initiatives and saw her son benefit from the organization’s programs.
“Opportunity Village is providing a place for my son to be where he’s protected and he’s earning that little paycheck,” she said.
Her association with the group began when she was seeking assistance for her severely disabled son, Christopher, at a time when there were far fewer people and services in Southern Nevada. After spending five years as a volunteer, she was hired as head of the group’s development efforts.
Smith was behind the capital campaigns to build four Opportunity Village campuses and launched the Magical Forest and Great Santa Run fundraisers. She also aligned the group with prominent entertainers including Wayne Newton, Johnny Carson, Shania Twain and Céline Dion.
Along with consulting with other nonprofits, she plans to spend her time writing the story of her life, which includes fleeing to North America from her native England to escape an abusive father, touring the United States as an entertainer, and becoming a nationally recognized advocate for the rights of the intellectually disabled after he son was refused entrance into the United States because the border agent said he was "retarded."
Smith said people with disabilities are some of the most misunderstood and maligned people in the country and it is time something is done about it.
“It’s time for people to recognize the total disregard for people with intellectual disabilities and the amazing people that they are and what they can accomplish,” she said.
She said people with intellectual disabilities have a lot to offer the world, if we just gave them a chance.
“I am so in love with my son,” she said, “He has taught me so much about compassion and human kindness."
Linda Smith, former Opportunity Village chief fundraiser
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