by Pat Saik
This month, the Cleaver Good Neighbor is Shannel Smith, who is opening doors - and minds - for children in the community!
"We work with others in the community to help make our programs both educational and fun.” One partnership, with Friends of the Animal Shelter in Hancock County, and the Bay St. Louis Library, gives children the chance to read a story to a dog who comes along with the Friends’ volunteer.
“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.
Both Shannel and husband Galen play basketball with their sons. Shannel jokes that Galen “is the Bobby Knight for the boys.” Knight, of course, is the collegiate basketball coach who has logged the most victories in NCAA men's basketball history. Shannel, on the other hand, plays Phil Jackson, the winning coach of the Chicago Bulls.
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.”