“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
— Margaret Mead
Meet the staff of Simply Smiles!
bryan nurnberger, president and founder
Bryan Nurnberger founded Simply Smiles, Inc. in 2003.
Bryan graduated from the University of Colorado in 1999 with a B.A. in history. In the few years after college and before founding Simply Smiles, Bryan worked as a mountain climbing guide, hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, lived with monks in Greece, and worked with sugar cane cutters in the Dominican Republic.
In 2013, he was given the Lakota name "Cante Waste Wicasa", which means "Kind Hearted Man."
Bryan lives with his wife, Kristen, and their dog Chip in Southport, CT.
Fun fact: Bryan is an avid, life-long Star Wars fan. He still has his childhood Star Wars pillowcase from when the first movie was released. It's not old, just vintage.
zachary gross, senior program manager
Zach graduated from Fairfield University in 2012 with a B.A. in Spanish and a triple minor in English, environmental studies, and Latin American & Caribbean studies. His first volunteer experience with Simply Smiles was in Oaxaca, Mexico as a high school student; he then returned to Mexico as an intern during his summers in college.
Since joining Simply Smiles full time in 2012, Zach has - among other things - learned how to test fecal samples for intestinal parasites, earned his bus driver's license, and dressed up as Santa Claus for our annual Christmas party on the Cheyenne River Reservation.
"Fun" fact: Zach inexplicably gets called Josh more times than he count. He would very much like to know why.
samantha steinmetz, volunteer coordinator
Sam graduated from Saint Michael’s College in 2012 with a degree in history and global studies, and a minor in Spanish. She started volunteering in high school with Simply Smiles in Mexico, and then continued to intern in Oaxaca throughout her summers of college.
Sam became part of the Simply Smiles staff in 2012, and now coordinates and recruits volunteer groups for both our Oaxaca and Reservation programs.
Fun fact: Sam formed a 3-on-3 basketball team in the summer of 2013 along with her coworkers Bryan and Dave. They only play while on the Reservation, and they only compete against volunteers. Their record is 82-1. (Please do not ask about the 1.)
dave graves, program manager
Dave received a bachelor's degree in Environmental Sciences and a certificate in Earth Sciences while attending the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He first volunteered with Simply Smiles in Mexico in May 2010 and later joined the Simply Smiles team in 2013 after spending the entire summer season on the Reservation.
Dave previously worked at Menards and brings his experience and personable nature to Simply Smiles. When he's not helping to build new homes for families on the Reservation, Dave can be found upholding the legacy of his 3-on-3 staff basketball team.
Fun fact: As a Wisconsin native, Dave is a lifelong, devoted Green Bay Packers fan and is now a season ticket holder. It's even been said that he bleeds green and gold. No one questions this.
gaby chavez hernandez, program manager • oaxaca, mexico
In 2002, at the age of 12, Gaby chose to leave her home in a remote Mexican village to pursue her education. In 2015 she received her B.A. in Business Administration from Sacred Heart University in Connecticut on a Simply Smiles Scholarship. After seven years of living in the United States, Gaby made another monumentous decision: to return to Mexico to manage Simply Smiles programs in Oaxaca.
Gaby is an exceptional individual and an inspiration to the thousands of people with whom she's crossed paths in Mexico, the United States, and beyond.
Fun facts: Gaby is the only person we've ever met who owns no music at all. Not one song. She also makes the most ridiculously amazing guacamole you've ever tasted.
mariabel chavez hernandez • oaxaca, mexico
Mariabel (Mari, as she's known to the kids; Bel as she's known to us) joined Simply Smiles in 2017 to serve as assistant director of the Simply Smiles Children's Home alongside her sister, Gaby.
Mari brings a wealth of experience coordinating the day-to-day operations of children's homes, and we are very lucky to have her as part of the team.
Erin is a senior at Southern Connecticut State University, majoring in Public Health. Erin first became involved with Simply Smiles through her youth group as a high school student, volunteering on the Reservation.
Erin has served as long-term intern on the Reservation, helping with just about every area from running summer camp to new home construction to keeping the volunteers and town of La Plant well-fed with her impressive cooking skills. Putting her public health skills to use, Erin has also assisted with our medical clinics in Oaxaca, Mexico to test and treat for parasitic intestinal worms.
Fun fact: Erin has a dog named Breezy, who sometimes wears a sweater with squirrels on it.
kristen graves, troubadour & (un)official first lady of Simply Smiles
Kristen is a singer/songwriter who served as the Connecticut State Troubadour from 2014-2016. Mentioned as "the new generation of folk" by the New York Times, Kristen performs both nationally and internationally.
Kristen made her first volunteer trip to Oaxaca, Mexico in 2001, before there was a Simply Smiles, and met Bryan as a fellow volunteer at the Casa Hogar Children’s Home. They’ve been working together ever since.
Kristen brings her musical talents to project sites in Oaxaca and the Reservation, including running and organizing an annual music camp and recital for kids and adults alike.
Fun fact: Kristen has a pet frog named George, born in 1991. He's still going strong.