smile project

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- In times like these, a smile can go a long way. A Louisville dad-daughter duo has started a movement, one smile at a time.

Maddie Ray loves to dance and she loves her family. Although she can't tell you herself, her smile says it all.

"The beauty of her smile and wanting to share it with the world," said Maddie's dad, Michael.

Maddie has Down syndrome and is non-verbal, but it doesn't take much for her to communicate. When nothing else seems clear, it's Maddie's face lighting up that provides clarity for her dad.

"When I always needed to be uplifted I always had one constant thing in my life and that was her," he said.

Michael wondered, if Maddie's grin could do that for him, what could it do for others?

"How can we take how she has changed my life to impact the lives of strangers," he said.

A photo in a Wendy's drive-thru started Smile Project Louisville in the spring of 2018.

smile project

"I said, 'I would love to take a picture of us smiling together in this moment to say thank you for us,'" Michael said.

He didn't realize that moment would become a movement.

"This little platform I created, really just to create change in my life and within our community, has resonated well beyond the city of Louisville," he said.

Now, Michael and Maddie travel around the area spreading hope and happiness. It costs nothing, but the payoff is huge. He documents smile after smile and story after story on social media. At first, they took pictures with strangers throughout the city. Now, they're granting random acts of kindness.

"People started nominating people and telling the story of why someone needed a smile," Michael said.

That takes a little creativity these days.

"We've used 10-foot poles, and I put giant plastic over me to hug it out," Michael said.

Each moment is a chance to change someone's day or someone's life.

"We're going through some crazy times, whether it's a pandemic and stuff recently with race relations," Michael said. "... If you lead with love and find love in your heart, you have the ability to go around and smile at complete strangers." 

smile project

Michael recently took his message to 28th and Broadway outside a looted, boarded-up Kroger. An act of kindness that tripled right in front of his eyes.

"It happened to be James, and it's an amazing moment," he said describing a video of them surprising a man with $100.

It's that kind of moment Michael hopes to continue spreading, with Maddie by his side.

"I tell people we smile because life is hard, not easy" he said.

The two hope to take their show on the road later this summer, spreading their message all over the country. You can nominate someone for Smile Project Louisville on their website.

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