Skip to main content

Kupchella in Peru: Prior Lake's Slater a real-life children's hero


I want to tell you the story of a real Minnesota "hero" I’ve come to know here in Peru this week on a trek and surgical mission trip sponsored by Smile Network International.

Jim Slater is a 52-year-old real estate agent from Prior Lake.

He’s a hero because he’s a regular guy who has figured out a way to make a profound difference in the lives of others at extraordinary scale.

It started with Jim coming upon a TV documentary – produced by Jason Davis in Minneapolis – about the work of Smile Network International. “It really brought tears to my eyes,” Jim told me. He said he was inspired by the way “Smile” was repairing cleft lips and palates in children all over the world – for as little as $500 per surgery, and in just 45 minutes. Jim saw it as a small investment in a smile with profound impact on children.

So this is what he did: He decided he would incorporate the mission of Smile into his life’s work, which is all about selling lakeshore property in Minnesota.

His plan: For every closing he could achieve, he’d donate "one smile" in the name of the buyer and "one smile" in the name of the seller in each transaction. It would cost him $1,000 per closing.

And the way he does the closings tends to result in more money for the cause. He brings a giant coffee-table book with him to the closing – rich with the landscapes of the places in which Smile is working, and featuring some of the stories of the more than 2,500 children Smile has helped along the way.

He shows the before-and-after pictures. And he explains that with this transaction – on this day – the people buying and selling this particular house are each changing one life – forever.

“I used to buy them a grill,” he told me, a significant "thank you" for doing business, “but today ... we’re going to change lives!”

“And you know what happens?” he asked. Often, at these closings, “The buyer, the seller, the other agent have all written out a check to take care of one more child.”

For Jim, it’s been an extraordinary mission.

Having recently sold a nearly $2 million dollar home, he upped his own ante. He said, “With this transaction today, I’m going to take care of 10 of these surgeries, five in the name of the buyer, five in the name of the seller.” It was a $5,000 donation. The buyer’s agent stepped up to match him. And the seller wrote out a check for one more. Twenty-one children will be taken care of as a result of that one Minnesota real estate transaction.

Jim has already been recognized by Smile with its highest award, naming him a “Champion of Hope” at a gala last spring, but I suspect that honor will pale in comparison to what will be going through Jim’s mind later this week, in Lima, Peru, when he will see the practical effect of what he’s done with each of 75 children returned to their mother after surgery.

Don’t get me wrong – it takes the work of a real village to do what Smile does here (doctors, nurses, 25 volunteers at this mission site alone, plus a super-dedicated staff and thousands of donors over the years).

Still, it can truly be said the $38,000 Jim brought to the table this week is enough to fund every one of the 75 life-altering surgeries scheduled here.

That’s a hero – by any measure.

Rick Kupchella, an Emmy-winning veteran journalist, has donated his time and money to Smile Network for several years. He joined the board shortly after founding BringMeTheNews in 2009 and now serves as Chairman of that board. Kupchella is trekking in Peru this week as part of his work with the organization.

Next Up

Karl-Anthony Towns

X-rays negative after Karl-Anthony Towns takes scary fall

Towns crashed hard to the ground late in the game Wednesday night.

Minneapolis police

2 more homicides push Minneapolis closer to record set in 1995

The deadly shootings happened on the city's North Side Wednesday night.

Karl-Anthony Towns

KAT sets a franchise record, leaves early in loss to Wizards

Towns fell on his back in the final minutes of a loss in Washington.

Flickr - police lights squad siren - Edward Kimmel

Man shot by police in Forest Lake dies from injuries

It was one of two police shootings in the Twin Cities on the same day, both of which proved fatal.

Dylan Bundy

Report: Twins agree to deal with Dylan Bundy

The Twins signed the right-hander with a lockout imminent.

Flickr - face masks covid pole - Ivan Radic

'Everyone should really be masking up' in public, Malcolm says

The health commissioner said residents have gotten "a little bit lax" with some protective measures.

Byron Buxton

Byron Buxton believes he's the best player in baseball

"Nobody [does] the things that I do. I know that."

unsplash medical marijuana

Edibles coming to Minnesota's medical marijuana program

MDH also announced it will not add anxiety as qualifying condition.

plow, snowplow, snow

Plowable snow possible this weekend in Minnesota

Up to half a foot of snow could fall within the heaviest band.

Best Buy - jjbers, Flickr

Police reveal new details about 'coordinated' Best Buy thefts

A large group stole thousands of dollars in merchandise from three Twin Cities Best Buy stores.

Seven Points exterior - 2

New tenant revealed for former Libertine spot in Uptown

The space will combine playful art offerings with a restaurant.