Kevin Smith knows what it’s like to face tough challenges. He grew up in an unstable household with limited resources. He started working at an early age to help his single mother with five children make ends meet. Although he is mindful of his humble beginnings, he also acknowledges a work ethic instilled by his grandfather and how this helped him become resilient and determined. Not one to use a difficult past as an excuse, Kevin eventually earned a computer technology degree and designed software systems for the accounting industry. He started as a sales representative for PPI Graphics in 1976 and purchased the company in 1995.
Kevin has always supported United Way through the workplace giving campaign at PPI Graphics, and in 1997 he was asked by then-CEO Steven Miller about donating the campaign printed materials. Mr. Miller asked Kevin and his wife Linda to tour the YWCA and have their picture taken.
During the tour of the YWCA, Kevin and Linda started learning more about the important work being funded by United Way throughout the community. The experience inspired them to do something to help. They were distressed seeing the number of people struggling with poverty in the community and realized – with their backgrounds and his business success – it was time to get involved.
Kevin began serving on the United Way Health Impact Council and now serves as co-chair. He has served on the Finance and Leadership Committees and Board of Directors, working to guarantee that funds are spent responsibly. He knows that there is a level of trust established between those who donate to a non-profit organization, and those who accept accountability for assuring that the funds are handled responsibly.
In 2015, Kevin was honored with United Way 2015 Gold Key award. He was nominated by Tena Wilson, Executive Director of the Stark County District Library. Tena says Smith is a “great advocate for the children and families of Stark County.” She admires Smith’s get-it-done attitude and always remembers his quote, “I would rather run head first into a wall than sit on the sideline.”
Kevin’s wife Linda shares Kevin’s dedication to the United Way mission and goals. She is an active United Way volunteer, serving as Chair of the Women’s Leadership Council, an organization dedicated to lifting women out of poverty. Linda is passionate about the group – which is about to announce a new name and energized mission statement. “WLC provide a forum for our members to promote the exchange of ideas and experiences, provide networking opportunities, offer educational and cultural programs, enhance the growth of our members as leaders and decision makers,” she explains. “We strive to make a positive contribution to the next generation of women leaders and to our community.”
When Kevin and Linda were approached about serving at 2017 Campaign Co-Chairs, he admits that he was caught off-guard. He wondered what they saw in he and his wife, to entrust them with such responsibility. He was told that they were inspiring.
“I guess I never saw myself as inspiring.” Kevin explained to attendees at the 2017 United Way of Greater Stark County Annual Meeting Breakfast:
“It is my belief that most people – when asked to accept a challenge – would like to stand up and be inspiring and make inspiring remarks that would lead to great action and have a big emotional response. Well, I don’t see myself as being able to stand up like a great football coach and win one for the Gipper.” But, what we can do is look each and every one of you in the eye, and tell you Linda and I took on this challenge because YOU all inspire US. Your day to day passion for what each and every one of you do every day that makes Stark County one of the most generous and forward thinking areas in our entire county, is inspiring.”
He mentioned some of the work being done every day in our community. “Teaching a child to read is inspiring. Saving one person from a life of addiction is inspiring. Preventing a suicide is inspiring. Working a family through a financial crisis and helping them get on their feet is inspiring. Providing free prescription medication to those in need is inspiring. And countless other programs United Way helps provide is inspiring. How could the two of us top that?”