Sheila J. Smith is currently President & CEO of 2-1-1 Broward, a 24-hour information and referral and crisis/suicide hotline serving Broward County. She has over 25 years experience in non-profit management, having served as CEO of organizations such as the Center of Hope in West Palm Beach (a residential substance abuse treatment facility for homeless adults), the Homeless Coalition of Palm Beach County, and Hispanics United of Buffalo (a full service community agency). In addition, Ms. Smith has provided consulting services to assist young non-profit organizations with Board, program and organizational development.
A resident of Broward County for 14 years, Ms. Smith is active with local and statewide health and human service planning efforts. She is the current Chair of the Florida Alliance of Information & Referral Services, immediate past Chair of the Florida 211 Association, and serves on the Boards of Directors of Florida Impact and CareerSource Broward.
With a degree in Psychology, Ms. Smith co-authored a 1997 study entitled “Evaluating an intervention for homeless persons: Results of a field experiment.” This study was published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Ms. Smith also has extensive grant writing experience and has generated millions of dollars in federal, state and local funding to support the important work of nonprofit organizations.
Going back to when you first started with your organization to now, what has been your proudest personal accomplishment?
Increasing visibility and building support for an organization that is vital to helping people in our community get connected with the help they need. I’m so proud of our partnerships with other nonprofits because we’re all more successful when we work collaboratively.
What do you enjoy the most about your work?
I work with an amazing team – our Board and staff are passionate, dedicated, and talented. It’s also been incredibly rewarding to get to know so many individuals who are leaders in making Broward a great place for everyone to live and work.
Do you have a mentor; someone who has been there to guide you or consult with you when you needed their input?
It’s only in reflecting back that I realize John Benz from Memorial Healthcare System has mentored me without my even being aware of it! He has insights and a depth of understanding unlike anyone I’ve known, and I’ve learned so much from him.
What program with your organization do you get the most excited about?
All of our services are great, but our daily calls to seniors to check on their safety and well being warms my heart. Many tell us that if it weren’t for us, they would never talk to anyone, ever. I can’t even imagine being so alone. We started hosting quarterly luncheons so they can meet one another, and now they talk on the phone and get together for visits with others who live close by.
How did you determine which charitable organizations you would support?
For me, it’s organizations that expand knowledge, increase opportunities for all segments of the community, and promote the values of diversity and acceptance. I always give to 2-1-1 Broward and United Way. I also think NPR is incredibly important as a means of promoting a deeper understanding our world and how we’re all connected.
Is there a charitable event(s) you really look forward to attending each year?
Absolutely – it’s 2-1-1’s NonProfit Academy Awards. It’s fun, it’s different, and most importantly, it’s a way to celebrate the incredible impact that nonprofit leaders and organizations have on our lives and our community.
How have things changed for you through the years?
I’ve certainly gained a deeper appreciation for what’s really important in life. I guess that comes with age, right?
What is your greatest strength(s) that makes you such an asset to your organization?
It’s important to create an environment where staff can be innovative, take risks, make mistakes, and grow. I’m fair, respectful, and am not ego-driven, so we’re a happy, relatively stress-free workplace where everyone gets credit for their many successes.
What is your greatest challenge at this time?
When doesn’t the challenge for a nonprofit have to do with money? The needs of people over the last few years have become so much more complex, so we’re spending a lot more time with our callers. We need more Counselors to staff our phone lines, but paying for it is a challenge.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A catamaran, the open sea, and enough money to travel the world (on the catamaran).
What is the most important thing you have learned through the years?
That providing a foundation for my children is the single most important thing I will ever do.
Is there an inspirational book you have read that you would recommend to others?
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s not only an exceptional history lesson, it’s a reminder that events can be vastly different depending on how each individual or group experiences them. It’s so important to consider and respect the perspective of each individual based on the uniqueness of his or her experience.
What is your vision and hope for the future?
When I look at our younger generation, I have a lot of hope for the future. They are concerned about the environment and healthy eating; they appreciate diversity on every level; they’re socially aware and globally concerned; and they understand the interconnectedness of people and countries. We certainly didn’t have this level of understanding at such a young age. It’s refreshing, and I have a lot of faith that our young people will make our world a better place.
Do you have a motto, or some words of wisdom, that has guided you through your life?
A couple of quotes related to education and raising children:
“Education is not the same thing as the distribution of course content.”
“Our job is not to toughen kids up to face a cruel and heartless world. Our job is to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”
What charitable organizations are you involved with at this time?
I’m the President/CEO at 2-1-1 Broward. I’m also on the Boards of Florida Impact, FLAIRS, and the Florida 2-1-1 Association.
What are your favorite leisure time activities or hobbies?
Anything water – I love beaches, swimming, sailing. I’m an advanced certified scuba diver and have done about 60 or so dives.
You are evidently a very capable and talented woman/man, what other talent do you wish you had been born with?
I can’t dance, but I sure wish I could!
What three things are always in your refrigerator?
Organic milk, organic eggs, and salad fixings.
What is your greatest indulgence?
What is your favorite store for clothes shopping?
I like Sawgrass, especially Neiman Marcus Last Call and Theory.
What is your pet peeve?
I have pretty much zero patience with pessimism.
What would you still like to learn how to do?
Learn a second language. I’d love to be totally immersed in a Spanish speaking country so I could build on what I do know.
What do you have to say to all the young women/men out there ready to take on the future?
Stay focused, stay positive, be open to opportunities, and don’t let fear or uncertainty keep you from seizing those opportunities. And remember how important it is to give back and leave the world a little better.