Monday, December 6, 2010

Donor Voices: Connie Smith

It's that time of year again: we're all receiving a deluge of fundraising appeals in our mailboxes, and here at GHCC we're sending out our fair share as well. As the holidays grow nearer and life becomes more hectic, sometimes it's important to reflect on why it means so much for us to give.

Recently, Greater Homewood Voices caught up with someone who knows exactly what it means to support a cause she believes in: loyal GHCC donor (and staff parent!) Connie Smith. Almost a year ago her son Tyson, GHCC's Director of Administration, shared his journey from Utah to Greater Homewood. Recently, Connie and her husband David made a journey of their own to attend GHCC's Annual Celebration & Volunteer Recognition event on November 9. Here, she shares some reflections on the event, giving to GHCC, and finally meeting Tyson's GHCC family.

GHCC's Annual Celebration & Volunteer Recognition
November 9, 2010
L to R: Connie Smith, Tyson Smith, Neal Gary, David Smith
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Why do you think it’s important to support non-profit causes you believe in?

I have lived the vast majority of my life in Sandy, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City. I taught second grade for five years before I had children. I now have four sons, two daughters-in-law, and one adorable grandson, with another grandchild on the way in the spring. I loved my time as a teacher and spent many years volunteering in my children's classrooms. My husband is also an educator: he was a teacher, spent 20 years as an elementary school principal, and now he works for the Utah State Office of Education.

I have always felt very blessed in my life in many ways, not the least of which is that I was able to stay home while I had children growing up in my home. I have always tried to express gratitude for my many blessings by helping others less fortunate than myself. Through service to others I find great joy and a sense of well being, as well as increased gratitude for all I have. I have learned a whole lot about the non-profit world since Tyson got his job at GHCC and have been very pleased to be able to donate to such a worthy cause for the last few years.

You became a donor in 2007 when your son Tyson moved to Baltimore from Utah and joined our staff. What makes you glad he found us at GHCC?

I am thrilled about Tyson's chance to be involved in the great work at GHCC. None of us had any idea what lay ahead for Tyson when he left Utah in February 2007 and headed back east to Baltimore—all we knew was that he was planning to pursue professional acting. Now I realize there was a reason he went to Baltimore and I believe it has to do with his being hired by GHCC. Of course, being from Utah, none of us were very familiar with much about Baltimore or any of the large eastern cities. Tyson told me early on that he felt Baltimore faced more extreme challenges than many other cities did. He was quite surprised by many of the things he learned after his arrival. He is now able to work in a place where he can really make a difference and improve many lives, and that makes me very happy and grateful. I believe he is right where he is supposed to be at this time.

You flew out from Salt Lake City to attend our Annual Celebration. What was your favorite aspect of the evening? What inspired you the most?

I thoroughly enjoyed the Annual Celebration—I thought it went perfectly. It was wonderful to be able to put a lot of GHCC names to faces after hearing so much about them. My husband and I were so impressed with the mayor’s keynote address and her vision for Baltimore. It was also a lot of fun for us to see Neal's boss in that context (he works in the mayor’s office). The new Vacants to Value program she spoke about was very inspiring. I also really loved learning about all the awards that were presented.

My very favorite part of the evening was the three people who spoke from their personal experiences: the Experience Corps member, the school principal, and the adult literacy learner. They were so enlightening and inspiring to hear. These are people who have literally had their lives changed through GHCC’s work and are now helping to improve others’ lives. I could have listened to those kinds of stories all night long!

What is your favorite GHCC program?

I have been learning more and more over the past few years and everything new I learn just makes me appreciate even more all the good work that GHCC is doing. There is such a variety of programs reaching out to so many different types of people: children, adults, low-income, new move-ins, people who need to learn English, etc. I think that is so exciting. I have also thoroughly enjoyed learning about the VISTA program which I had not heard of before. I have loved reading the VISTA members’ inspiring stories on GHCC’s blog.

If I had to single out one favorite program, I would choose GHCC’s work in the public schools. Being a former teacher who raised four children, all of whom did very well in public schools and got a great start on their college educations, I understand how important a good education is for everyone. All children deserve excellent teachers who love to work with children and well-run schools with ample support from the community. I have heard a lot about the impact GHCC has on Baltimore City public schools and I am so impressed by that.

As one of GHCC’s long-distance friends, how do you keep up to date and stay in touch?

Of course, Tyson is my main source of connection to GHCC. He tries to keep me in the loop with the big things, but being on the mailing list for the past several months for Greater Homewood Voices and the GHCC Digest has been so eye-opening for me. I have learned so much and have really enjoyed reading the personal and very inspiring stories from so many individuals. On our recent trip to Baltimore Tyson drove us around a bit and showed us some Greater Homewood neighborhoods. We were able to see the 33rd Street mural and the Senator Theatre, which we brought home on a lovely hand-signed poster from [Baltimore cartoonist] Tom Chalkley.

If you could say just one thing to potential donors, what would it be?

If you are looking for a way to make a difference and know that your money will go a long way and be very well spent, GHCC is a great organization to consider!

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