College is not a reality that many living in poverty consider “a given” or a definite part of their future. Ridden with financial burdens, the everyday struggle to secure shelter and food are the constant priority. In fact, only 47 percent of low-income students enroll in college, according to the Huffington Post. A young Charles Smith found himself in this predicament at just 17 years old.
Smith never even considered going to college because of the lack of resources and access to opportunity that would be necessary to go. His parents worked hard as a janitor and a cook when he was growing up in Danville, Virginia; with five children, they struggled regularly to make ends meet. Finishing up his last year in high school, Smith’s typing skills landed him a job at Harvey and Wood, an African American law firm, as a secretary. Smith found himself a support system there, and his mentors at the law firm encouraged him to apply to college at a time where not many African Americans were attending universities. When he was accepted into Morehouse College in Atlanta, his mentors helped him apply for scholarships, and because of that support, Smith was awarded a National Merit Scholarship. “They wanted to give back, and they helped me out a lot,” he said of his mentors.
His experience at the law firm shaped his outlook throughout his life. Obtaining a Bachelors degree in Business Administration from Morehouse in 1961 was not easy, but “living in Danville taught [him] all about survival skills.” He maintained three to four jobs while in school full-time, and at one point even made enough money to send back home to his family. Giving has always been a part of his character.
After graduation, Smith worked in Miami before serving his country in the United States Army. He has been giving his time, talent, and treasure ever since, by working with local nonprofits to help those in need. He volunteered as a site manager to the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), working for their free tax preparation program. This program assisted low-income families and the elderly when completing their tax returns. Smith currently volunteers with the Family Resource Center in Raleigh to strengthen child-family relationships among fathers in the community.
He also spends his time with the Youth Education for Saving Consortium (YES), helping to promote financial education among children in marginalized communities.
When asked why he gives so much, Smith exclaimed, “It feels good to give!” He enjoys seeing individuals in need receive resources to help them be successful. He urges others to give as there are many causes, and because “it is a wonderful feeling to see other people thriving because of something you did.”
Having just celebrated his 79th birthday, Smith continues to give back to the communities that served him as a young African American man. Throughout his life, Charles has not only served his family and his country, but continues to serve his community just as it once served him. “I just always felt like I needed to give back, and it’s an honor to do it in this way.”
Charles Smith is a member of the A LOT (A Legacy of Tradition) giving circle, whose fund is administered by Triangle Community Foundation. A LOT has made nearly $12,000 in grants to the community, supporting organizations working in education and youth mentorship. Smith also serves on the Donor Development Committee for the Foundation.
– Written by Wad Khalafalla