When you meet new people in your journey of life and your heart is open, you are connected with true gems! Gems are those that shine before you get in their presence. Gems are the ones who know their true value and wish to impart their gift to others. Gems are something everyone wants in their treasure chest. The bible states where your treasure is there also is your heart. Let me introduce you to Joni “HeartSmiles” Holifield.
Our mission is to motivate, inspire and empower Baltimore’s a time-risk youth to overcome their challenges and find success. We accomplish this by providing services that empower young people to excel academically and successfully transition into adulthood. The services we provide include but are not limited to mentoring, tutoring, resume building and more. We also host free events that bring young people together with entrepreneurs and business professionals. Our young audience is able to engage our guest speakers in real conversation about real issues within the community and beyond. Clips from our very first event can be found on our Facebook page by searching HeartSmiles, LLC.
HeartSmiles has currently partnered with Bliss Driving Academy, LLC to offer a summer entrepreneur program for Baltimore youth. The program will walk young aspiring entrepreneurs through the process of starting their own business around their passion. Every young person involved will have the opportunity to get hands on experience in starting and running a business, they will have an entrepreneur mentor and they will graduate the program as an official business owner. The details are still being worked out but we plan on launching the entrepreneur summer program soon after the end of the school year. Location and other details are still to be determined.
If anyone reading would like to volunteer or donate to our mission, please visit our website at www.HeartSmilesMD.com. Every little bit helps and we appreciate the prayers and support of everyone who wants to see HeartSmiles make a positive impact in Baltimore.
Tell my readers about you and how you came to be who you are today. How did HeartSmiles come about?
One of my 2015 goals was to become an entrepreneur. My talent has been managing people and computer repair so naturally I was thinking about opening up a brick and mortar PC repair shop where people could come and have their PC’s and laptops repaired and then Freddie Gray happened. After witnessing the riots and having my heart broken for the young people involved it was clear to me that I needed to be a part of the long-term solution and in July 2015 I officially started HeartSmiles. My sole intent at the time was to find creative ways to motivate, inspire and empower Baltimore’s at-risk youth. I knew that I wanted a group home that would focus on providing a family-like environment, academic support and life skills needed to successfully transition into adulthood. At the time I had no idea how I was going to make all these great things happen for the children in Baltimore but I knew that I needed to find a way so I started reaching out to different people and clawing my way through. There was no way I was going to give up on supporting Baltimore’s Youth just because I started hitting brick walls. I continued to push and as we speak, I’m still pushing my way through in hopes of finding proper support to help further the HeartSmiles mission.
Where are you originally from and how did you come to settle in Baltimore?
I was born on the Fort Bragg Army base in North Carolina. Both my parents were in the army so they moved around a lot but my mom was originally from Baltimore. She left my father when I was about 4 years old and moved us from Michigan back to Baltimore where she raised me and my younger siblings (brother and sister) on her own.
What made you decide to do what you do and come to settle in Baltimore or the DMV? how has the impact on community changed your life?
To be honest the deciding factor for me was walking through the Penn-North area while the riots were calming
down and seeing the young faces drowning in hurt and pain while the National Guard rolled around in combat gear with rifles bigger than me. I knew that I needed to do something. It just wasn’t clear to me at the point what my “something” was but standing by idle and not putting my heart on the frontline to save young lives was not an option. I’m still VERY new to community outreach. Before starting HeartSmiles I was one of those people who was taking care of home and minding my own business. I always cared about social issues but I never really got myself involved to the point where I’m actually making real contributions to help impact lives using my own money, time and resources. Since I’ve been intimately involved in community service and supporting young people it’s helped me to realize my true purpose in life and why throughout my career I was always the one helping people under me to get ahead. I was being prepped for the HeartSmiles mission. I was being groomed to step into a position where I was doing more than helping someone gain a promotion at work, my new role with HeartSmiles is to help young people gain promotions in life.
What inspires you to do what you do?
I am inspired by the idea that I can and will make a positive difference in the lives of Baltimore’s Youth. 10 years from now a child who grew up poor and facing adversity will tell the world how because of HeartSmiles he was able to avoid a life of prison or early death. Because of HeartSmiles he was taught early how to achieve academic success and how to build his own business and take care of his family and neighbors. Because of HeartSmiles, he is now in a position to give back to his community and to help build the next generation of future leaders. The idea that HeartSmiles will be more than just programs and group homes but a funnel for producing successful leaders and a new generation of thoughtful citizens who will change the story for Baltimore is what inspires me most.
What was the biggest obstacle in achieving your success?
That one is difficult to answer because in my mind I have not yet achieved true success. While HeartSmiles may have reached a few young people in these last 6 months since starting the business we haven’t fully reached a point where our impact is felt across the city. I think once we’ve been blessed with more opportunities to initiate after school programs, resources to start the group home and funding to expand our events, that’s when I’ll be able to call HeartSmiles a success. At this stage, we are funding everything out of pocket and when you offer free resources your hands kind of get tied in what you can and can’t do – not because you don’t want to but because of the limited resources. We are truly thankful for the volunteers who work with us and with the supporters who donate to our cause. Every little bit helps and every little bit is put into these young people.
What was the initial experience like and what was the upside/downside of the experience?
The initial experience of being involved in community events and getting to know community leaders was exciting. I felt like I was networking, building the right relationships and putting myself in a position to really collaborate and make things happen. The downside has been the lack of support in general. Don’t get me wrong, I have a few people in my corner who have been nothing short of a blessing but I have encountered people who have said that they would support HeartSmiles but to this day have not come through. And for me, it’s never about money. I have the link set up for people to donate so if you choose to donate we appreciate it but I never make a big deal over it because I understand that we all have our priorities, I get it. But what I’m talking about is when a person has a connection to a resource that would support the business, they promise that they will put you in touch or do what they can to help you through the process and then you never hear from them. Phone calls go unanswered, text messages are ignored, emails are ignored, the call back never happens, etc. It gets frustrating but I’ve never let that discourage me to the point where I stop having hope or faith in the next connection that I make. I’m just more careful with not getting my hopes up based on promises. I’m new to this entire arena so of course I need connections with grant writing, the Department of Labor Licensing and Regulations, Social Services, etc. It’s a lot to get accomplished but I’m confident that I’ll be in touch with the right people at the right time with the right resources.
What would you change about what you do ?
I would make it my full time commitment. Right now working a full time position in a leadership role with high demands is the most difficult part to manage. The better part of my day is spent at my full time job leaving me with only evenings and weekends to build HeartSmiles. Once I’m afforded the opportunity to do this full time I’ll be able to have a much bigger impact and HeartSmiles will be able to touch even more young lives.
What advice would you give to young people who find interest in what you do?
My advice would be to get involved however you can. Whether that’s getting yourself involved in a mentoring program where you help someone younger than yourself or you start attending community events and talking with the organizers about how you can volunteer. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people who are doing what you have an interest in doing. The one thing about the world we live in is that everybody knows somebody that knows somebody. Put your goals out there, start talking to family, friends, teachers, counselors, coaches any and everybody and trust me; your network will start to take you exactly where you want to go. If you’re interested in the HeartSmiles mission you can contact me directly.
Who inspires/supports you?
I love this question. I love it because it gives me an opportunity to tell the world about how awesome my family is. My mom, brother and sister are my biggest supporters in life and HeartSmiles business partners. My mom has supported every single endeavor my entire life and she has never stopped being the real life example of love, care and giving. When others thought the idea of HeartSmiles was bogus and that it would never work my family was the force pushing me forward and helping me to build my network. I can honestly say that without their support throughout the years just in life in general, I would not be in a position to own my own company today.
Is there any one thing that you constantly do/say that makes a difference in the outcome of what you do?
Yes, I constantly keep going. When one resource is pulled away or if something gets shuts down, I keep going. It may be on a different path but the ultimate goal is still in mind. I’m a big believer in speaking things into existence and exuding positive energy. While I keep my expectations realistic, I never limit myself and when people give me 100 reasons why my idea won’t work I fire back with the one reason why it will work and I go for it. I’m never idle and I’m always positive.
What is in store for the future?
HeartSmiles will change lives and be a positive force in motivating, inspiring and empowering Baltimore’s Youth. Once we’ve successfully opened our first group home in Baltimore and are in a position to expand around the city we want to take our mission to different cities across the nation that could benefit from the model we’ve built. After we’ve taken care of home first which is Baltimore we definitely want the opportunity to help at-risk youth in broken communities around the United States.
Readers can reach me several ways, here’s all my information. Everything comes directly to me so I’ll be the one personally responding to every communication sent. Donations are very much appreciated and accepted on our website which is listed below.
Phone\Text – 443.271.4075
Email – HeartSmilesMD@gmail.com
FaceBook – https://www.facebook.com/HeartsmilesMD
Instagram – HeartSmilesMD
Twitter – HeartSmilesMD
contributions to you or your organization
My kind of person…..POSITIVE!!! With a drive and a purpose, this soul has taken a vision and pushed it into reality! With our city’s youth and their future in mind, HeartSmiles will be around for along time to come. Thank you Joni for sharing your light with my readers!