Father, daughter spread joy with Smile Project


LOUISVILLE, KY (CNN NEWSOURCE) – In times like these, a smile can go a long way.

A dad-daughter duo in Kentucky is starting a movement one smile at a time.

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

“The beauty of her smile and want to share it with the world,” Michael Ray said.

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, Michael.

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

He 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,” Michael said. 

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

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

Never knowing a 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,” Michael said. 

Now he travels around the area with Maddie spreading hope and happiness — Something that costs nothing, but the payoff is huge.

Smile after smile, story after story. At first taking pictures of strangers throughout the city and now 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 one a chance to change someone’s day, someone’s life.

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

He recently took his message to 28th and Broadway outside the 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,” Michael said. 

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

“I tell people we smile because life is hard not easy,” Michael said. 

Dad and daughter, using a special smile to spread a message, no words necessary.

“Be the reason someone smiles today and I say hey blow them a kiss,” Michael said.

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