When Smith Childs started Furman University four years ago, she never expected a classroom requirement would help shape her college experience and her career aspirations. But after completing her first semester freshman year Latin America Civilization course, which required a two hour weekly volunteer commitment to Neighborhood Focus, Smith knew she had uncovered part of her calling - to serve under resourced children within the Hispanic community.
We sat down with Smith to learn more about what her volunteer experience at Neighborhood Focus means to her, and what she plans to do in the future.
Q: What drew you to Neighborhood Focus?
A: After completing my course requirement my freshman year, I knew I wanted to continue serving the students there in the afterschool program. I was drawn to the high quality of the curriculum, and how the staff and volunteers connect so closely with the kids and their families.
I’m also incredibly impressed with how much these children learn to love Jesus, and learn about the Bible. They’re learning lessons that even I didn’t know, and that’s been one of my favorite parts of working with them - to see their Christian faith really blossom and grow strong.
Q: What types of things do you do as a volunteer?
A: When I started volunteering there four years ago, I connected very quickly with one of the boys, who at the time was in second grade. He was behind in school, and needed a lot of help with his homework. I’ve been able to build a relationship with him and work closely each week to help him with his studies. He’s now a fifth grader, and he’s made such tremendous progress in school.
It’s such a blessing to be able to get to know these students - learn about their struggles, their accomplishments, their family life - and just walk alongside them as a friend and a mentor.
Q: Why do you think it’s important for people to volunteer?
A: As a college student, I try to encourage my friends through my own actions to show it’s important for us to get out of our “campus bubble,” and contribute to the community around us in Greenville. When you volunteer at a place like Neighborhood Focus, which serves the Hispanic community, you learn so much about a culture different than your own. You feel like you’re able to make a bigger impact, and leave college having made a difference.
Q: What are you currently studying at Furman, and what are your plans for the future?
A: I’m a senior student majoring in Spanish and Sociology. I’m originally from Atlanta, and after graduating from high school, I spent a gap year volunteering in Chile and Peru. I knew after that experience I wanted to pursue a career in the nonprofit sector, serving Hispanic communities.
I’m currently applying for a Fulbright scholarship, where if I’m accepted, I will spend time teaching English to people in another country. I know I want to build a career around helping under resourced children succeed.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you think children from low income families within the Hispanic community face?
A: I don’t feel like the school system is set up to successfully accommodate our Hispanic students well. Many of them are smart, bright children, but they fall behind in school due to the language barrier. The parents may not speak English well, or at all, and they don’t understand how the American school system works - which makes it hard for them to build a trusting relationship with teachers and school staff. It also means they can’t help their children with their homework, if they’re unable to read the assignment themselves.
This is where I feel like Neighborhood Focus is such a blessing in our community. Families know they can come here and feel safe, ask questions, and get a better understanding of how they can help their children succeed. There’s a partnership between the families and Neighborhood Focus - everyone is working towards the same goal, to see every child here be the best they can be.
Q: What is a Bible verse that guides you in your volunteer work?
A: : “God has given each of you a gift form His great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God Himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to Him forever and ever!” — 1 Peter 4:10-11
We thank you, Smith, for spending the past four years volunteering with us! Your heart is so big, and we know you’re going to go on to make such a lasting impact wherever your journey takes you.