“What if you could change the system so the women you worked with [at the Christian Women’s Job Corps] were never in their situations or circumstances in the first place?” Dr. Rob Rogers said, years ago in a meeting with Capstone student. “What policies could have been created to change the systems affecting them?”
This helped to change the direction of that student’s life. This conversation helped plant the macro social work seed in the heart of the Garland School of Social Work’s 2018 Alumna of the Year, Dana Smith, and that seed has only grown and flourished for nearly 15 years!
Originally from Missouri, Smith is a two-time graduate of Baylor University. She earned BSW in 2004 and her MSW in 2005. She came to Baylor knowing she wanted to be part of a helping profession, thinking she would major in education and work with ESL students, but true ESL programs, the kind she wanted to be a part of, were hard to come by at that time. She felt as though she was not where she needed to be.
Then someone pointed her toward an Introduction to Social Work class, and like so many have said before her, it felt like home. She knew she had found where God wanted her to be. This class served as her light bulb moment when she realized how many more kids she could help doing this type of work. She also learned how, “social work could fulfill that desire to volunteer and minister appropriately,” by helping her understand the whole person, the whole child. Dana has been helping vulnerable children all over Texas and across the country ever since.
Smith, an active member of the National Association of Social Workers, has spent nearly her entire career advocating for systemic change that positively affects the lives of children and families. She works diligently to empower children to shape their future through education.
Empowering Students Through Education
Upon graduation in 2005, Smith found Communities In Schools, an agency working directly in 2,300 schools, in 25 states and the District of Columbia. Their mission was to build relationships that empower students to stay in school and succeed in life. When she first applied, she knew she didn’t want an administrative job. She wanted to be a hands-on site coordinator at a school campus. So, in the beginning, that’s what she did for several years at Communities In Schools of North Texas, personally working with 90 students each school year.
She continued to work for CIS North Texas in a number of capacities: Parent Educator, Director of Community Investments and Volunteerism, Director of Program Research and Grant Development and eventually Chief Executive Officer serving more than 147,000 students. While serving as CEO at CIS of North Texas, Smith wrote and submitted more than 40 grants, with a 97% award rate and was successful in expanding programs across six additional school districts resulting in 29 additional programs serving 400% more students. Then in 2016, after five years as CEO, Dana was recruited into the CIS National Office in Washington D.C. as the Director of Organizational Development. Through the national office, she now provides support for organizations serving over half a million students, and with her love of macro social work, she feels like it’s the perfect place to be!
Smith recently heard Rham Emanuel (the mayor of Chicago and former Chief of Staff for President Obama) speak at a conference in Washington, D.C. He said something she has been preaching her entire career, and it is this: “For children to live up to their full potential, adults have to own their full responsibility.” Yes!! Yes, she said, this is what we need in society. In general, children are born into families and their circumstances. They do not have a choice about where or how they live.
“All I could think was, YES, that is what I’ve been trying to do,” Smith said. “This is exactly where the struggle exists. Whether it was when I was working one-on-one with a student to help them gain confidence and get the resources they desperately needed, so they could reach their full potential, or when I was sitting down with legislators on Capitol Hill advocating for public education and begging them to see how our students are our future - I was only one piece of the puzzle.”
Smith, an active member of the National Association of Social Workers, has spent nearly her entire career advocating for systemic change that positively affects the lives of children and families. She works diligently to empower children to shape their future through education. She contends that we need more social workers out there who can help adults be capable of taking on their full responsibilities and can help children without a capable adult, reach their full potential.
“We need social work students to step out into the world and help curate new research on best practices, and help us advocate for the least of these,” Smith added. “We need them to run good organizations so clients can receive the best services possible, and we need them to help change the world by empowering one client at a time.”
Every day Smith works tirelessly to make a difference in the lives of those she serves, whether it be a student or the staff serving that student five states away. She is a firm believer that if you make a difference in one person’s life, there are tidal waves that can come from it.
“When I was first notified about this award, I was floored,” Smith said. “I’m just so honored. I’ve always been proud to be a Baylor Social Work alumna and so humbled to learn from professors such as Diana Garland, Gaynor Yancey, and Rob Rogers —talk about macro social work! They help you become a better version of yourself, which models what we should be doing as social workers - empowering our clients to be better versions of themselves. They are truly changing the world! The school is full of professors such as these, and this award somehow, to me, means they’re saying ‘hey, you too are doing this.’ It is truly humbling, and it brings tears to my eyes to think somebody would think I am sufficient in that capacity!”
Dana Smith is an exceptional example of what it means to be the Garland School of Social Work’s Alumna of the Year.
Note: This article was originally published here.