A lifetime of ministering to children opened Shelly Smith’s heart to the struggles grownups face in raising their families.
The Bonham native, who grew up volunteering in her church nursery and helping with Sunday school, has devoted herself to young people in jeopardy since arriving in Longview as a juvenile probation officer in 1996. She has spent the past six years as executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates, which shepherds children through court proceedings and speaks to the court in their interest.
On Friday, Smith officially became executive director of Buckner Children and Family Services for Longview, local arm of the nonprofit Buckner International. She starts her new mission Tuesday after spending this weekend in the corporate offices in Dallas.
Smith, 45, said earlier this week that she came by her passion for children’s ministry from her parents and her faith. Her heart for grownups grew out of that first love.
“I was raised to be strong and independent and compassionate,” she said. “But my involvement with children gave me the willingness to be compassionate toward others.”
The transition from CASA to Buckner Longview is a natural one. The two nonprofit groups work in tandem for healthy family outcomes in the local family district court.
“Oh, absolutely,” she said. “I’ve worked in partnership with Buckner all the years I’ve been in CASA. The work is so similar, in that the families are all ... You’re working with the same families, the same family dynamics in those families that need a holistic approach to strengthening and stability. I’m excited to be on the front end of helping families prevent removal and of families becoming healthy and stable.”
Buckner Longview accomplishes those missions, partly, with the Family Hope centers, faith-based sites where families receive practical help geared toward making them successful and keeping them together, and the Family Pathways curriculum. The latter offers single parents, men and women, help such as child care while pursuing school, career and other goals.
“Everything is holistic,” Smith said, describing education, parenting skills, money management and other elements of a successful household. “I’m busy.”
Family District Court Judge Tim Womack has seen Smith working with children as part of the team in his 307th District Court.
“Shelly has performed admirably in her role as executive director of East Texas CASA,” the judge said. “I am confident she will excel in her new position at Buckner. I look forward to working with her in her new position.”
JoAnn Cole, vice president of domestic programs for Buckner Children and Family Services, wrote in a statement that Smith brings the exact combination of skills and experience her new role requires.
“Shelly brings with her extensive experience of serving vulnerable children and families — a mission she is passionate about,” Cole said. “She also brings strong ties to the area, and I know our staff and clients will benefit greatly from her leadership.”
The married mother of three boys succeeds David Ummel, who moved in 2017 to a statewide Buckner initiative, Smith said. Her counterpart in Lufkin, Marisa Phillips, has since run Buckner Longview and will be Smith’s supervisor.
“I’m excited to meet all the staff and the program director and all the families that are in the programs and to get started,” Smith said, outlining goals for her first year. “I would like to have more community awareness of the different programs that we have. I would like the community to be aware of the day-to-day programs that we offer.”
She also testified that Buckner’s faith-based mission doesn’t wait for government to take care of those in crisis but steps up to do as its members believe God has directed all people to do.
“It is, absolutely,” she said. “God is very specific on the fact that, as a Christian, we’re to take care of our church and family and widows.”