The Uplifting Journey aims at improving lives
Life is a universal journey. Although all people approach life differently, no one is alone. With support from fellow travelers, people can chose to live their life in a way that is most fulfilling to them.
That is the mentality that led to the name of The Uplifting Journey, a nonprofit organization founded in 2011 by UALR graduate Christopher D. Smith. Its mission, he said, is to help people develop a more optimistic view of life.
Smith graduated from UALR in 2010 with a bachelor’s in political science. From 2009 to 2010, he served as president of the Student Government Association.
“I loved being SGA president,” Smith said. “I still love politics. I loved meeting people, talking to them and finding out what was important to students. Even if we couldn’t help, we were there to listen.”
Smith said he inherited his passion for service from his parents. “Growing up in Hope, Ark., my parents were all about service and helping other people. That really took root as I grew older,” he said. Smith said that he never planned on being a motivational speaker or starting a nonprofit; he just wanted to help people.
“We all need inspiration. We all need encouragement. I want to really make sure I do my part to change someone’s life for the better,” he said.
The Uplifting Journey aims at building people’s self-esteem and self-confidence, so that they can better their lives and those of the people around them.
“The biggest thing we bring across is no matter who you are – young, old, male, female, where you’re born – we all have an identity about ourselves. Self-esteem depends on the value we attach to that identity,” Smith said. “If you feel like you’re not appreciated, your identity is not strong, which can lead, potentially, to not reaching your full potential.”
People with high self-esteem have a more cheerful attitude, he said. Being happy with oneself can be a challenge, however. The media, among other things, tells people who they should be, how they should dress and what kind of music to listen to, he said.
“Various entities are pushing and pulling us, and it takes a strong individual to say ‘This is who I want to be,’” he said.
Life itself can be a challenge, Smith said. Unfortunate things happen to people; everyone has bad days.
“You can’t control what happens day to day, but you can control your response to it,” Smith said. “If we weren’t meant to win in life and equipped with the strategies to make it though the hard times, life wouldn’t deal us the blows that it does.”
Thinking positively about life and oneself can help people meet their goals and keep a bad situation from ruining their entire day, or life. “If you are positive, I believe that makes different things work out; if you are negative or down-and-out, don’t be surprised if life gives back bad situations,” Smith said.
Thinking positively is not enough to create change, however; you have to want it, he said. The hardest part of transforming one’s life is making the decision to change, he said, because people are afraid they might fail.
After making that decision, the process of change is much easier, Smith said. “You commit to change, put forth the right action and remove yourself from situations that are not positive to your life,” he said. Change cannot occur overnight, however; people must progress one day at a time, he said.
The process is continual, Smith said, because people are constantly facing new challenges and learning new lessons. “You learn something new everyday and sometimes you learn something new about yourself,” he said.
The Uplifting Journey is not just about building oneself, it is also about helping other people, Smith said. “When you feel good about yourself, you want other people to feel the same thing. It’s all about paying it forward,” he said.
“We are all connected in one way or another,” he said. “Finding that relatable thread is what makes this project so much fun.”
Fun or not, members of The Uplifting Journey stay busy. Smith said that the members of the organization work “nonstop” and constantly multitask.
The Uplifting Journey periodically hosts family days, he said, in which families can get together for games, music, dancing and food. The purpose is to have fun and focus on the family, Smith said.
“That’s what adds to love in life – simple things. Sometimes, we overlook what’s most important.”
Smith said that The Uplifting Journey also partners with other organizations to participate in volunteer work. Working with Susan G. Komen for the Cure, they have spoken with people who have dealt with breast cancer, and cheered on participants at Race for the Cure, he said.
In September, Hunger Action Month, they organize a food drive, the donations from which go to the Arkansas Food Bank, he said. During November and December, he said they organize a clothing drive to support One, Inc., an organization that serves the homeless community.
“Really making a difference and putting forth action to help those in need builds up optimism,” Smith said.
One of the group’s largest projects is ReDEFINE Me: Youth Initiative, which began in October 2012. The program helps teenagers identify and eliminate stereotypes, Smith said. Smith defined stereotyping as believing that you know all about a person just by looking at them.
“Stereotypes are a serious thing, particularly in today’s day and age. If individuals aren’t careful, they could hurt someone,” he said.
ReDEFINE Me tours schools, churches and youth centers and talks with young people, parents and counselors about the issues they face, he said.
“Each time we visit with the kids, they reveal something different that surprises us,” he said. “We reach young people where they’re at, talk with them and identify the true champion within them. We want to be seen as a big brother or sister that they can go to and talk about things with.”
Smith said that the group has also dealt with self-image and bullying. They do different exercises, one of which is “Lies versus Truth,” in which they have participants write negative things about themselves on a piece of paper, then have their peers write positive truths to contradict the negative statements. Then they throw the lies away and keep the truths for later reflection.
“It helps the kids plant seeds of hope and positivity in each other without even knowing it,” Smith said.
The group also does role-playing games, which opens up a dialogue about stereotypes, but also instills in participants the confidence that they can speak in front of a group, he said.
“We work to plant that seed of positivity in their mind that will help them focus in school so they can grow up to be great leaders,” he said. “We can’t be with them every step of the way, and that’s where the community and positive role models come in. They can push and drive them in the right direction so they will see other individuals care and want to see them progress.”
Smith also had some advice for college students.
“I believe in you,” he said. “Never give up. Take it one day at a time and before you know it, you’ll have a college degree and can move on to bigger and better things.”
“Be bold,” he added, “because we need more individuals that are strong and brave and willing to go into the world and find the cure for the latest disease or create a new vehicle.”
Smith said he has a few dreams for The Uplifting Journey. He said he would like to host a conference in which he would bring in people from across the country to talk about the importance of building the best possible life, and strategies to help people do so. He added that it would be great to have an event at the university, where they could “help create a community of great future leaders.”
Immediately, Smith said he would like to see the organization grow. At present, there are 40 people involved in the organization, he said. But they also have supporters in other states who send donations and encouraging words.
“We are looking to spread the message and grow our numbers, so that we can make a greater input,” he said. “We’re here to help. Everyone who wants to help is welcome.”
More information about The Uplifting Journey can be found on its website, TheUpliftingJourney.org.