A meaningful job

Pat Smith has worn a lot of hats during her career, from English teacher to hotel payroll supervisor. But her eight years as executive director of the Souris Valley United Way has enabled her to help grow an organization that has helped some of the most vulnerable citizens in Minot.

“I’m really glad I could help the community,” said Smith who will retire at the end of the month.

Smith said all of her previous jobs helped prepare her for the position.

She applied for the job because “I was looking for something a little more meaningful.”

She told the hiring committee, “You need me!” and set out to help make it even better. During her years at the United Way, Smith has seen the start or expansion of programs like the Backpack Buddies program, which provides backpacks filled with food over the weekend during the school year to children at risk of hunger. This year United Way added a fifth school to the four schools they already served. Some 236 children in the Minot Public Schools received backpacks during the 2016-2017 school year. During the summer months, United Way helps fund a program that provides food for all children at Radio City Park.

Preschoolers benefit from the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program, which was launched in August 2012. Infants up to age 5 can receive books in the mail. Parents are encouraged to read to their children and help them get ready for kindergarten.

“We’re into 43 zip code areas (in the state) now,” said Smith.

Backpack Buddies and the Imagination Library are the two programs that are always guaranteed funding by the United Way, which considers them “theirs.” But 23 other local organizations also received grant funding last year from the United Way.

Among the Program Partners at the United Way are the Community Action Food Pantry Program, the Minot Commission on Aging’s Meals on Wheels Program, the Adaptive Recreation Program at Annie’s House, Catholic Charities of North Dakota’s Guardianship Program and its Pregnancy Services Program, the Children’s Advocate Program at the Domestic Violence Crisis Center, the Village Family Service Center’s Supervised Parenting Program and its Pregnancy Counseling program, Lutheran Social Services’ Senior Companions Program, YMCA’s Youth Leadership Program, and the Northern Plains Children’s Advocacy Center, which provides a safe environment where children who have been victims of crime can be interviewed.

Smith said she couldn’t have run a successful organization without office staff Julie Haas and Danielle Rued and the help from volunteers who serve on different committees.

Over the years, the volunteers served on the Souris River Basin Unmet Needs Committee, which aided recovery efforts following the Souris River flood of 2011.

Smith remembers the flood as a hectic, traumatic time. She was not personally affected, but wanted to help others who were.

The annual Community Shower collects diapers that are distributed to shelters and food pantries. Thirty women who belong to Women United and their Little Black Dress campaign helps raise money for causes that are of importance to women and children.

In general, fundraising in the community brings in the dollars that help those programs thrive. Smith said the annual campaign hit a high of $718,514 in 2014-2015. But contributions have declined. United Way had hoped to raise $1 million in 2016-2017 but brought in only $585,310. Next year’s campaign goal will be $675,000, which Smith hopes they can meet. Smith said contributions have gone down due to an economic downturn in the area. A volunteer might call a business that had helped in the past and be told that they had just laid off several employees.

Still, the need in the community continues to increase, not decline, said Smith.

Smith said she will be spending more time with her family, including her five grandchildren. She is confident that the organization will be in great hands with incoming executive director Rich Berg.

(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Editor Mike Sasser at 857-1959 or Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to msasser@minotdailynews.com.)