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Spreading smiles

Since 1992, Michael McMeel has been spreading smiles via his Awareness Foundation and the “Inner City Slickers” program, inspiring at-risk children to blossom using Old West tenets in everyday life. The kids go away from the experience having learned how to summon strength and perseverance and understanding the meaning of putting in a hard day of work.

The program, inspired by the film “City Slickers,” is designed to build self-esteem and self-confidence while breaking down the very social prejudices that hinder many of these children from becoming all they were meant to be.

McMeel uses the “Cowboy Code of Ethics” to teach kindness, dependability, responsibility and the meaning of “keeping your word” to the groups of kids who spend quality time at his New Tazewell horse ranch.

Through the years, McMeel has hit upon other ways to give to kids. One event is the much-anticipated ICS Christmas Party. From all reports, the 2019 edition was a huge success. Leading up to the annual event was a series of school visits where kids were gifted with stuffed animals and something a little less tangible but maybe more important to a child – an adult’s time and attention.

“I was lying in bed after a long day of stuffed animals, and I realized something very profound. I just had the opportunity this week to directly, first hand, touch the hearts and souls of almost 1,000 kids….in just five days. I saw their lives being affected in a positive way. I saw their eyes filled with wonder and hope when they embraced their Unicorn or Rabbit…..when they hugged us….when they laughed. I have been so fortunate to have experienced Christmas through the eyes and the hearts of the young, the pure and the sacred….This was truly an out of body experience – kids with smiles that would melt your heart,” said McMeel, in a Facebook post.

He says the one thing that continues to be his source of inspiration is the knowledge that, with the right guidance, children can change for the better.

“They want to be a part of something good and they want to contribute to something. But, more times than not, they don’t know how. Waking them up – providing happy memories they can draw from when life gets tough – building character, trust and respect in our young people – that’s my commitment to them,” said McMeel.

For more information about The Awareness Foundation and its offshoot, Inner City Slickers, you may call McMeel at 423-489-8614.

The Foundation/Program is a nonprofit 501(c) 3 organization. All donations are tax-deductible.