This month, the Cleaver Good Neighbor is Shannel Smith, who is opening doors - and minds - for children in the community!
"A Calling, Not Just a Job"
Shannel Smith has the daunting task of providing a safe place and an educational space for some 150 children, ranging in age from five to eighteen, that come to the Boys & Girls Club after school every day.
But Shannel Smith remains undaunted. “This is a calling, not just a job.” Her tone of voice grows soft. “I love what I do.”
Looking out her office window, deep in thought, Shannel sighs. “It is a blessing to be a part of a child’s life, to help mold and shape them through their crucial years.”
The Boys & Girls Club offers quality programs on a daily basis. Not only a safe place for kids to go after school, certified teachers on staff help the children with their homework.
Shannel, who wears different hats every day, from administrator to teacher, knows the importance of developing open lines of communication and nurturing on-going relationships with the kids.
Shannel and her staff work closely with parents, too. “We can’t do it on our own,” she says. “Our job is more effective because we have parents who are active, aware, and committed.”
“A child who may be shy about reading to an adult usually can’t wait to read to a furry, four-legged visitor to the Club,” Shannel explains. “Encouraged to read aloud in this way, kids build self-confidence.”
Shannel grew up in Los Angeles, California; her parents, Polynesian and South Pacific Islanders, instilled in their children—six boys and one girl—the importance of showing respect to all people.
“I had a great childhood,” she says with a smile. “It was all about aiga—that is the Samoan word for family.”
Shannel admits to experiencing “culture shock” when she moved from southern California to south Alabama to attend college. It was on the Gulf Coast that she met her future husband, Galen Smith, Sr., a lifetime and well-known resident of Bay St. Louis.
Their elder son, Galen Smith, Jr., is called “Little G;” their younger son, Galen Smith III, is called “Tolu,” which means "three" in Samoan.
Not surprisingly, Shannel and Galen, as parents, stress academics and push their sons to excel.
“An education is so important,” Shannel says with passion. “No one can take that away.”
Shannel practices what she preaches. “It’s never too late to get an education. Right now, I am working on completing my college degree.”
Shannel has worked with many Hancock County kids since 2004, when she began with the Club as a part-time instructor; now, ten years later, she is the unit manager of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast, Hancock County Unit.
Although Shannel has been recognized many times for her work, her office walls are devoid of plaques and commendations.
Instead, her desk, her filing cabinets, and her walls are filled with pictures of children and their artwork.
With one exception—a basketball trophy.
“I am so proud of that trophy,” she grins. I played basketball in a community league in Gulfport, and in 2011 we placed runner-up.”
Shannel is both a basketball fan and a formidable basketball player. Over six feet tall, she played power forward and center in collegiate basketball at the University of South Alabama in Mobile in the mid-1990s.
Not surprisingly, both sons play basketball for Bay High. And as one would expect, both sons also have excelled academically.
“Bay St. Louis is one of the best places to raise a family. I love the small community, the hospitality and I love the laid-back Southern feel." In contrast to her childhood home in Los Angeles, Shannel says “it is here in Bay St. Louis where I feel a sense of belonging.”
Spreading awareness of the Club’s mission in a community she loves is one part of Shannel’s many job responsibilities.
“While many in the community have heard of The Boys & Girls Club, a national nonprofit organization, we want people here to know more about us and what we strive for.”
“Our mission is to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.”
Shannel speaks softly. “The kids are my reward. I get to see small miracles happen every day.”
Shannel invites anyone interested to just call or drop in.
“This place is a second home for so many kids.”