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Support sought to send girl on leadership trip

When 11-year-old Lauren Smith, a sixth grader at Dan River Middle School in Ringgold, was nominated to attend the National Young Leaders State Conference by her school principal recently, her parents, especially her father, Sammy Smith, were very proud of their daughter’s achievement. 

However, the South Boston resident was heartbroken when he realized he could not afford to send his daughter to this conference since he has been out of work for several years due to medical complications.

Now, he is asking area businesses and members of the community for donations to help send his daughter to the conference.

 “I don’t want her to  miss out because of me,” he said.

 Tuition for the four-day conference is $1,595 and includes all housing, instruction and supervision by professional faculty advisors, all conference materials and activities and all meals from dinner on Thursday through breakfast on Sunday. 

The enrollment deadline is March 21.

The conference is being hosted by Envision, an independent educational organization seeking to distinguish a select group of exceptional students for their scholastic merit and demonstrated leadership ability. 

The program challenges these scholars to step forward with conviction and confidence to grasp the concepts of leadership that will be taught and to act upon their dreams of making a difference in there communities. 

While he understands what a great opportunity the conference would be for his daughter, Smith said he simply can’t afford to send her.

Smith has been out of work since Dec. 2010 following a colon cancer diagnosis, and he struggles to make ends meet. He has had to put his house up for sale and sell his boat, truck and car along with several of his other belongings just to catch up on the bills.

Social services is assisting him with a telephone and food stamps each month. He also gets a little help from his sister, Nancy Smith, and her husband, Wayne, his brother, Bobby Smith, and his wife, Melissa, and his aunt and uncle, Betty Ann and James Sadler, along with friends Grayson Puryear Jr. and Ricky Moorefield. Smith said he is very grateful for all their help.

 He has filed for disability and is still waiting for a response. He tries to pay the bills and child support for Lauren whom he gets on the weekends and during the entire summer.

 His financial and medical troubles began in February of 2009, when he was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer. Two days after his diagnosis, doctors removed 10 inches of colon from his body. 

Following the surgery, he remained on chemo until October of that year.

At the time, he was working at Piedmont Maintenance Services in Roxboro, N.C., a job he had held for 15 years. 

After finishing chemotherapy, he went back to work in November 2009, but a few months later in February of 2010 he suffered a hernia and had to undergo another operation.  He eventually went back to work, but later that year he suffered another hernia. He had that operation and was planning on coming back to work when he was diagnosed with hemochromatosis, an abnormal accumulation of iron in parenchymal organs, leading to organ toxicity. 

After that diagnosis, Smith said he had to have blood drawn once a week for six weeks causing him to miss several days from work. Because of all the time he missed from work taking care of medical problems, Smith was unable to keep his job.

“They tried to keep me for as long as they could,” Smith said.

Lauren’s mother, Rita Sulter of Ringgold, also is struggling to make ends meet on her end as well after losing her husband to a heart attack in September. 

The mother of five said her husband was their main source of income, while she was a stay at home mother. In addition to losing her husband, Sulter was recently diagnosed with cervical cancer and has been suffering serious complications with her blood pressure. 

Luckily Medicaid covers her medical expenses. 

Like Smith, she does qualify for food stamps from social services, but she is still unable to pay all her bills in full. She also is getting help from friends and family, and a local church is assisting her with electric bills. 

She too would like to see her daughter be able to take advantage of this leadership opportunity.

“When I found out, I was so excited for her, but at the same time, I felt heartbroken because we would not be able to send her,” she said. 

Smith and Sulter both are eager for their daughter to have this opportunity and ask anyone willing to make a donation to contact Smith at 434-446-5208 or send donations to 232 Powell Road, South Boston, VA 24592.