In the classroom, Penny has a 3.88 grade point average and is ranked 73 out of 633 in her senior class. She is active in Partners Club, is a Bryant High School Ambassador and is President of the National Honor Society. And if this is not enough to see why she should have your attention, her other extracurricular activities and accomplishments will make it clear.
For the past five summers, Penny has traveled to Kenya, Africa with her church, St. Andrews Anglican Church, which is located in Little Rock. “I was sitting in church one Sunday and noticed in the church bulletin that there was going to be a trip to Kenya for junior high students. I knew I had to be a part of that, and have gone on the trip every summer for the past five years.”
Her reasons for making this trip every summer are simple. Penny explains, “I was adopted when I was three months old. My parents are both physicians, and were serving as medical missionaries in Kenya, Africa, and they adopted me while they were there. We lived in Kenya until I was seven years old, then moved to Arkansas in 2009. So being able to go back to Kenya as much as possible and serve is very important to me.”
Penny’s father is Nathaniel Smith, who is currently the Arkansas Health Director, and her mom, Kim Smith, is a practicing obstetrician/gynecologist at the Central Arkansas Women’s Clinic in Bryant.
Penny is the founding member of Baraka Yetu, which is a student-led fundraising organization for various non-profits in Kenya, Africa. She and five other students from Bryant High School serve as the Board of Directors for Baraka Yetu. Those board members are Rachel Curtis, Tanner Caton, Alex Dillard, Ashlie Sparks and Sarah Kennedy. These student leaders held three successful fundraisers last year—a car wash, bake sale and art auction.
All of the proceeds of the three fundraisers went to Kijabe Hospital in Kenya, specifically to areas of the hospital that fight infant mortality. Penny was able to visit the hospital this past summer and see the fruits of Baraka Yetu’s labor in person. “I went on a mission trip with my church and stayed on for a few extra days to be at Kijabe Hospital and be a shadow for a few days. I was able to see in person all of their work prenatal care that in turn worked to help decrease the infant mortality rate. It was very meaningful to have that time there and see for myself how the money was spent with the Newborn Community Health project in Kenya.”
She also is quick to add, “What’s most important to me, and what motivates me the most is the notion that I can give back to my home country. There are so many students in Africa that don’t get to go to college after secondary school. They have to pass a test in order to move forward with their education, and very few are able to pass it. I am so blessed by all the opportunities in my life, especially my education, and I want to give back to Africa by serving. I see it as a true privilege to encourage others to make a difference, and to work hard to make their lives better.”
“Penny has a kind heart and will make numerous positive impacts on all the lives she touches,” shares Ashley McKell, a sixth grade science teacher at Bethel Middle School.
As Penny looks to the future, she has college and a future career in medicine on the horizon. She plans to attend Baylor University in Waco, Texas in the fall, majoring in Medical Humanities, which studies the effects of medicine on culture. And while her future is bright, her focus remains on serving and encouraging others to make a difference in the world, no matter where they are.