When Louis Smith envisioned opening a facility in Summerville that catered to the vast needs of his community’s less educated, unemployed and at-risk children and adults, he first thought of his wife and her passion for others.
Smith said she died tragically in a train accident in 2006, leaving him as a widower to care for their three children. Together the grieving family devised a way to both honor Sylvia’s legacy and conduct the community work Smith said best characterized her.
“We helped started this as an endowment for my wife; we wanted to do something in her honor,” Smith said. “She was an evangelist, and she believed in working in the community, and I decided I wanted to work back in the community.”
Smith and his children established the center, located at 116 W. 2nd North Street, four years ago this month, and together chipped in $30,000 to start it.
Known for his political involvement both around town and the greater Charleston area—including running for school board twice for Dorchester District Two and once for Charleston County—it’s no secret Smith has often made Lowcountry headlines about hot topics including removing the Confederate battle flag from public display and pushing for single-member districts for the school board.
But Smith, who labels himself a progressive Democrat, explained both he and the center have a larger, philanthropic side sometimes overshadowed by his political passions.
“A lot of people have seen the political side of the Community Resource Center,” he said, “but there’s a story that must be told...and the story is what we do here in this community.”
Over the last year the center has served the needy in a number of ways. Smith said volunteers have not only fed and clothed the homeless through free distributions—including handing out 125 bags of food to people at Doty Park this summer—but have also kept them cool during the hot summer months. The center handed out at least 75 free air conditioning units to residents and allowed anyone without indoor heating to use the center as a warming shelter in the winter, Smith said.
Home repairs are another way the center helps people. At least 150 applicants have requested assistance.
But educating the community is one of the center’s most vital objectives. That means everything from hosting town-hall style meetings with law enforcement to assisting high-school dropouts with obtaining an GED, and even guiding individuals recently released from jail or prison in securing jobs and making a smooth transition back into society.
In addition to adults, children are a top focus for Smith and volunteers, including Ethel Campbell, a retired special education teacher for Dorchester District Two and chair of the Dorchester County Democratic Party. Smith considers her one of his top helpers and right-hand “men” at the center.
The organization is currently signing up students ages 5 to 13 for its popular after-school program, which Campbell heads two days a week at Brownsville Community Church of God. Both Tuesday and Wednesday she operated an informational booth at Alston-Bailey Elementary School, where she met local children and discussed the program’s purpose with parents. Teachers also provide student referrals for the program, Campbell said.
She explained it’s designed most for “at-risk” children—“children who struggle with doing their homework and have some behavior that gets in the way of teachers (teaching).”
“Those type children can always use the one-one-one,” Campbell said. “If we can just make that adjustment with them and their study habits.”
Campbell has led the program the last two years but said she’s relinquishing her role this upcoming school year to allow for “new energy and new ideas”—but won’t be too far away.
“It’s never stepping down, just stepping aside,” Campbell said.
She explained how working with youth has been her life’s calling and believes no child forgets an adult’s guidance.
“Children will always be appreciative of what you do for them. They will come back and say, ‘Thank you,’” Campbell said. “I tell the children I work with them because when I get older I need them to look out for me.”
She and Smith hope to expand the program from its current 30-student limit, but first need more volunteers.
The school district partners with the center on the program, picking up Alston-Bailey students once the bell rings at 2:10 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and dropping them off at the church. The district also purchased computers for the group’s computer lab, even outfitting them with the same programs the students utilize in class.
The center is also gearing up to host its first-ever health clinic with free blood pressure, cancer and mammogram screenings. The event is set for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 26 at the center.
In 2015 the center signed up 500 people for Obamacare, Smith said, and hopes to continue providing residents access to resources they need to stay healthy. His dream is to one day build a permanent clinic at the center.
“Bottom line: We are really into—I mean really into—this community,” Campbell said.
For more information visit the Community Resource Center website or on Facebook.