December 30, 2013

Our Neighbors: Helping families here at home

By R. Scott Belzer
Staff Writer

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — London resident Beth Smith, 47, is living proof that it’s never too late to be passionate and give back to your community.

Originally from Glendale, Calif., Smith moved to London in 1972. She has since become a true Laurel Countian, having attended London Elementary, Laurel County Jr. High (now South Laurel Middle), and graduated from Laurel County High School (South Laurel High School) in 1984.

“I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else,” Smith said. “Growing up, I loved the outdoors. We’d either go hiking in the woods or have a picnic on the cliff. I really do think this is one of the best places anyone could live.”

Smith opted to jump straight into the workforce once out of high school by working at Appalachian Computer Services (ACS). During her four-year tenure at ACS, Smith had her daughter.

In 1990, Smith got her first taste of social work while working at the Cumberland Valley District Health Department. Eleven years later, she applied to work at the Laurel County Health Department (LCHD) as a clerk.

It was at the LCHD that Smith found her true calling. In 2003, she began working as a Home Visitor for the new Health Access Nurturing Development Services (HANDS) program at the Laurel County Health Department, a job that required her to work one-on-one with prenatal and new parents.

Working for HANDS allowed Smith to support families and help parents full-time. Smith has always found it to be rewarding and fulfilling.

“When you’re with a family prenatally, you’re with them for three years,” Smith said. “Watching that family and that child grow can be inspirational.”

When Smith graduated from Eastern Kentucky University at 40 in 2006, she became the HANDS program coordinator at the LCHD. Smith said it’s a privilege to work in an environment that facilitates her passions.

“I love being able to advocate for people who feel they don’t have a voice,” said Smith. “Regardless of where people are in their life, they can achieve their dreams. Some people don’t ever hear that growing up and stop believing.”

Now, Smith – along with just two other employees at the Health Department – serves approximately 50 families in Laurel County. While her role mainly comprises of managing the program, assigning families to visitors and supervising staff, she still visits every family in the county at least once a quarter.

“For me, it’s not about the budget or funding,” Smith said. “It’s about seeing local families accomplish things. It’s not even really that stressful. It’s all about families – we know what’s expected and what we can do.”