Dr. Luke Smith relocated from Arkansas to North Carolina following medical school to pursue a career in adult and childhood psychiatry. As he became more involved in his new community, Dr. Smith realized there was a pressing need for mental health services offered in Spanish. Driven by his newfound commitment to bridging this gap in psychiatric care, Dr. Smith worked to improve his rudimentary Spanish with notecards, watching telenovelas, and reading Harry Potter in Spanish. Along the way, he met others who wanted to address the need for Spanish-language mental health services in NC, and ultimately this small group of community-involved volunteers founded El Futuro, a Latino-serving mental health care organization offering bilingual, culturally responsive services in Durham and across NC. Now, 20 years after its founding, Dr. Smith serves as both the Executive Director and Medical Director of El Futuro, extending his expertise in psychiatric care to patients of all ages.

As a dual board-certified physician, Dr. Smith ensures that those who seek out El Futuro’s services are met with comprehensive and specialized care. The El Futuro team has learned that those in the immigrant community are more often spurred to seek care based on trust, so El Futuro works hard to create an environment in which they respectfully engage with their patients’ cultures. A key component of this approach is to start a session with questions like, “What are your dreams for the future” as opposed to, “what is your chief complaint?” El Futuro hosts outreach programs and community events designed to build networks of understanding and community amongst the families they serve, like through their annual Dia de Los Muertos celebration, one of many events in their therapeutic green space. To aid in the dismantling of barriers to access and in the destigmatization of mental health within the Latin community, El Futuro also hosts educational workshops and cultural sensitivity training sessions. These efforts in trust-building have been successful; each year, Dr. Smith and his team cater to the needs of more than 2,500 children and families seeking assistance.

The El Futuro teams works to ensure continued inclusivity and efficacy in mental health care delivery, both at their own organization and throughout the state. Beyond clinical patient care, El Futuro plays an instrumental role in shaping local and statewide policies by advocating for the advancement of mental health services. Dr. Smith encourages community-based participatory research initiatives, which focus on developing evidence-based practices tailored specifically to address the needs of the North Carolina Latino community as defined by that community. El Futuro has become the trusted resource for Latino mental healthcare in North Carolina and beyond.

While Dr. Smith has received numerous accolades throughout his career with El Futuro, his greatest reward remains the transformative impact he and his team witness in the lives of those El Futuro has served for the last 20 years. His work with the organization reaffirms his vocation for improving mental health outcomes and supporting stronger, thriving familias.