JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) -Mary Beth Smith is the youngest to ever receive the Gr8 Acts of Kindness award presented by First Community Bank and KAIT.
An Honors College student at UCA, her empathy knows no bounds. Mary Diaz nominated the 18-year-old for the Gr8 Acts of Kindness after seeing her efforts online to help bicycle accident victim, Quinton Tate.
Smith was selected for the award two months after she left for college. So, arranging a big surprise for her took some extra planning on behalf of her family, friends and youth leaders at Southwest Church of Christ. Family, friends, and First Community bank personnel gathered at the church on a Thursday night.
“She should be here anytime now,” Anna Smith, Mary Beth’s mother said.
Mary Beth’s friends are in on the surprise and are bringing her to the church.
“This is the lady who nominated her,” Anna said pointing to Mary Diaz who is watching all the festivities while on vacation, joining in via FaceTime.
More than 30 people fill a darkened youth center room inside Southwest Church of Christ. The crowd made up of family, friends, and First Community Bank personnel, remained quiet as they hear footsteps and then the doors fling back to reveal a very surprised Mary Beth Smith.
“This room of folks have been waiting for you to be here,” I said. “Do you have any idea why? We are all here because of how you spent your summer.”
Mary Beth’s hands are clasped around her mouth in surprise.
“May 29, that’s a day that changed everything for one young man. That was a day when a horrific accident happened,” I said.
“I was riding and then Lutrell said, ‘Get out of the way! You’re about to get hit!” Quinton Tate said. “When I was in the ambulance truck, I opened my eyes and my brother was on the ground like this.”
Quinton Tate’s head hit the vehicle at full speed, then slammed into the concrete below. His brain was swelling. Quinton was rushed to Regional One in Memphis.
“God saved me and Mary Beth, well, she’s been there since day one,” Tate said.
Before the accident, Quinton was riding his bike on the church parking lot one day when Mary Beth invited him inside.
“I was part of the Youth Group,” Mary Beth said. “I was kind of like a senior intern.”
“My first day at Southwest, Mary Beth came up to me and said, ‘Hey, what’s your name?’ ‘I said Quinton.’ ‘What’s yours?’ ‘Mary Beth.’”
Quinton learned about God, but neither Mary Beth nor Quinton could know what would lie ahead.
"It was right here. Had to remove part of the skull,” Quinton said. “They removed it twice.”
No one knew if Quinton would survive.
“I just broke down and just curled up and I was like, ‘God help him. He’s got this potential,’” Mary Beth pleaded. “Heal him! Heal him! Do what you need to do!”
Mary Beth organized a prayer vigil.
“You see bad things happen every day,” Mary Beth said. “But man when you get everyone together, there is love in this community that we can come together and help each other.”
Mary Beth had the youth sign a wooden cross to be put inside Quinton’s hospital room and raised money for Quinton’s family through the sale of plastic bands which were inscribed with the scripture Isaiah 41:10 and Quinton’s nickname, “The Beast.”
“God is a healer,” Quinton said.
“You prayed harder and The Beast got stronger and he’s here tonight,” I said.
The room erupted into applause as Quinton came out from behind a wall to meet Mary Beth halfway across the room in a hug.
“I am glad you were there for me,” Quinton said. “I just want to thank you for everything.”
“Thanks, Q!” Mary Beth said. “I love you. Glad you’re back with us.”
And just when you think the story is about to end, another begins.
“You found it in your heart to help someone else this year,” I said to Mary Beth.
“She knew it was going to be a rough transition for me, moving from a teacher’s salary to the unknown,” Barbara Tarbutton, Mary Beth’s former Spanish teacher, said.
Barbara Tarbutton’s husband was diagnosed with cancer, and she retired to get him back and forth to treatment.
“You stepped forward and raised money for this family at a time when it was needed most. In fact, you raised over a thousand dollars and Mrs. Tarbutton would like to say thank you, too!” I said.
Mary Beth’s eyes widened with surprise. She had no idea that Mrs. Tarbutton was a part of her surprise.
Mary Beth organized efforts to raise money online and through a yard sale.
“I opened that envelope and there was over a thousand dollars in it. I couldn’t believe it!” Tarbutton said. “I couldn’t believe she would do that for me!”
All these efforts. All the hugs could only mean one thing.
“You are the next winner in the Gr8 Acts of Kindness!” I said.
Screams and applause echoed against the walls of the teen center inside Southwest.
“It was just like a dream,” Mary Beth said. “I guess it just honestly doesn’t feel real. I saw all the people I love.”
Mary Beth Smith, a college freshman who took bad experiences and turned them into good.
“People like you make our community such a better place,” Allen Williams, Community President at First Community Bank, said.
“I thank you for giving your time and for being a part of my life,” Tarbutton said as she hugged Mary Beth. “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” Mary Beth said.
Mary Beth has already given most of her $408 dollar prize to the Northeast Arkansas Humane Society.
She continues her studies at UCA, having earned a full ride scholarship there.