Neena Smith

Lived Experience Advisory Board


Born in Iran to Revolutionary Socialist parents deeply committed to fighting for justice and the rights of the people, I was raised amidst the fervor of demonstrations advocating for human rights in Iran. My father, a lifelong advocate for human rights, instilled in me the values of speaking up for justice, no matter the cost.

My family later moved to Germany, where our activism against the Iranian government continued. I vividly recall attending numerous gatherings with my father, learning firsthand the importance of standing up for the rights of our people. However, in 1986, as the situation became increasingly dangerous, my father made the difficult decision for us to leave Germany with only a few days’ notice.

Arriving in America as a teenager, I struggled to fit in and cope with insecurities and anxieties that shaped my early years. At just 13, I shouldered adult responsibilities, serving as a translator for my family and assisting my father in establishing a business to support our family.

Desperate to belong, I fell into a life of crime, addiction, and abuse. However, a life-altering overdose on methamphetamine led me to the brink of death. Despite doctors’ grim prognosis, I defied the odds and emerged from a coma, determined to turn my life around.

Faced with medical issues stemming from my past lifestyle, as well as legal troubles that threatened my freedom, I found myself at a crossroads. It was then that a federal officer extended a lifeline of hope, believing in my potential for change. With newfound determination, I embraced a program for rehabilitation, successfully completing it and earning my discharge from federal supervision.

My journey of transformation inspired me to pursue higher education and dedicate myself to helping others overcome adversity. Today, I work tirelessly in the field of rehabilitation, driven by a profound sense of purpose to support and uplift those facing similar struggles.

Every day, I strive to be a beacon of hope for others, knowing firsthand the power of redemption and second chances. My life’s mission is to pay forward the kindness and support that rescued me, empowering others to believe in their ability to overcome obstacles and thrive.