S.M.I.L.E –“Service Makes Individual Lives Exciting“
This week’s story is not about a great person or couple here in Calvert County, but about 175 wonderful individuals whose
volunteer efforts and talents have had a tremendous impact on our citizens, especially our needy families. Of course I am talking about one of the premier charity organizations of Southern Maryland, our good friends at S.M.I.L.E.! This ecumenical group of clergy and lay persons from twelve congregations within the southern part of the County is in its 24th year of providing services such as food distribution, clothing, furniture, school supplies and job training to name a few.. This group also provides emergency funding for energy assistance, rent, evictions, foreclosures, health needs and prescriptions. It is amazing the many needs these folks try to resolve on a regular basis and seldom, if ever, do they turn anyone down that have bona fide reasons to seek their support.
SMILE was organized in 1991 by a group of concerned members of seven churches in the Solomons and Lusby area who saw the growing issues with the poorer families who were being forgotten as the county was becoming one of the most affluent within Maryland. Sitting around a dining room table at a private home, these charter members drew up a set of By-laws, formed an Articles for Incorporation, and filed as a non-profit 501c organization. A Board of Directors consisting of a President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer and one clergy member and two lay members from each congregation were filled. All programs are to be guided by volunteer coordinators. These folks meet once a month to hear reports from officers and coordinators of the programs and decide actions to take in the operation of this charity. As an all-volunteer organization with no paid staff, the Board members take an active role in administering all operations.
At first, the group based their efforts out of the unused parsonage of the Solomons United Methodist Church in Solomons. Eventually, the home was sold, so all of the goods and items that were collected were stored in trailers behind the Solomons Volunteer Fire Department until a new building could be located. With the generosity of a a benefactor and the many churches and individual donors who matched this gift, SMILE moved into its current facility in Lusby on the grounds near Middleham Chapel/St. Peter’s Parish on H.G. Trueman Road. And if you have visited their building recently you know they are busting at the seams with all the goods that are being delivered to them daily by the fine citizens of the area. It is true charity at its finest!
From its beginning, SMILE has operated a Thrift Shop and a Food Pantry for its patrons. The Thrift Shop generates a majority of the funds that purchases the groceries and provides the monies for the Emergency Assistance for the needy. They accept all types of usable furniture, furnishings, appliances, and clothes articles for all ages. They partner with local grocery stores and government agencies to gather perishable food to distribute to the hungry. They host a staff member from the Tri County Community Assistance Center once a month to take applications for energy assistance to pay for the heating bills during the extremely cold winter months as well as for the cost for cooling during the warm days of summer. SMILE also provides a Job Bus for training purposes and to take folks without means of transportation to unemployment offices to apply for open job opportunities.
Some of SMILE’s most noteworthy accomplishments include providing Christmas dinners to more than 200 guests at the American Legion Post in Lusby each year, preparing Thanksgiving Dinner baskets for 400 families, and weekly food distributions to over 4000 County residents. Additionally, SMILE puts great emphasis in its ecumenical worship services; with members of St. Peter’s Solomons, United Methodist Church of Solomons, and Our Lady Star of the Sea, and others, SMILE hosts an awesome and moving Good Friday Ecumenical Service where the parishioners parade from St. Peters to Our Lady with clergy alternating the carrying of the Cross. This gathering of Christians of many faiths is impressive and inspiring and makes the celebration of Easter all the more significant.
From its meager beginnings, when churches were small yet hearts were large, SMILE has emerged as one of the true pillars of the community. Over the years this group has been recognized with many awards at all levels within the County and the State including a citation from the Governor of Maryland. And this past Saturday evening during the annual Father Alexander Awards Gala held at Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Solomons, SMILE was presented with the “Father Alexander Award” for their nearly 25 years of dedication to the community and the less fortunate families within the area. Our Lady’s Pastor, Monsignor Mike Wilson presented a beautiful crystal trophy to Ms. Debbie Jagodzinski as the representative for all the 175 great SMILE volunteers. Additionally, she was presented with a $1000 check by Father Mike to be used to further the organization’s work! The award is named for Father Alexander, the first full time Pastor at Our Lady Star of the Sea, who built the church and school with no money in hand. Father Alexander was able to persuade people of affluence, small business owners, and others in forming a nationwide appeal to bring in donations no matter how small in hopes of making his Parish become a center for Christian worship and education here in Calvert County. And for many of us, it was that same will and determination, and maybe a little “Divine Providence” thrown in for good measure, on the part of the original founding members that made the organization of SMILE possible as well! A much deserved “Thank You” to all of you SMILE volunteers!!!
For more information about this charitable organization and how you might help, go to www.smileinc.org.
Dave Spigler resides in Lusby and has been a resident of Calvert County since 1979. He has been recognized many times for his years of community service. He received the “Calvert You Are Beautiful Award” for 2013 and recognized by the Knights of Columbus as the “Maryland Citizen of the Year” in 2011. He was a member of the HOGETTES, the Washington Redskins “Biggest Fans” for 22 years. If you know of an unsung citizen of Calvert County, please contact Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org.