Georgie Smith honored as a 2016 Top Ten CNN Hero

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Partner Melissa Goddard and Smith create A Sense of Home

Georgie Smith (right), is seen here with her partner Melissa Goddard and their dog Rondo. Their foundation, A Sense of Home, creates living spaces for youth who age out of the foster care system at age 18. Photo by Marshall Smith

 

Each day, most of us see the needs of others. Because of how widespread and overwhelming those needs are — homelessness, poverty, addiction and hopelessness — we often feel powerless to respond.

But some do respond. Idyllwild part-timer Georgie Smith and her partner Melissa Goddard saw a need they could not ignore and used their combined professional skills to make a difference. Smith was honored as a CNN Top 10 Hero of 2016 for her work in establishing the nonprofit A Sense of Home.

Rules specify that only a “single individual, at least 13 years of age” may be nominated at large for this honor and international recognition. But even though Smith was the designated honoree as ASOH founder and executive director, it is a group effort and Goddard is co-founder and vice president of the foundation.

Smith notes that Los Angeles County has the nation’s highest rate of foster kids who have aged out of the system. Left on their own at 18, many have nowhere to go, live in squalor and often fall into panic and negative patterns. ASOH’s website notes that every two minutes, a child enters foster care in the U.S. Many are never adopted and up to 35,000 age out of the system at age 18.

After encountering one “aged out” foster care young adult, Smith decided to use her designer skills, and donated furniture and home-goods to transform the young man’s makeshift living space into a habitable and dignified home. Out of this experience, A Sense of Home was born.

Since then, Smith, Goddard and their committed team of 3,000 volunteers have created 200 homes for these impacted young people. They create ceremony that honors the individual and the home prior to opening the door to the new living space. “We celebrate the best of that person before going into the home,” said Smith. “We come together, dance, then gather in a circle and write down what we wish for this person. We share their story in creating a sense of home, reminding them that they’re worthy of this new beginning. For them, this connection with all of us is the beginning of being able to trust. Everything in their life becomes re-imagined.”

And in a model that has become part of the ongoing ASOH ceremony, those who receive, pay it forward to the next recipients — having received the gift of a new home, they volunteer to create new homes for others.

In a photo from the 200th new-home celebration, volunteers hold signs proclaiming “Hearts Create Homes.” And with Smith and Goddard, ceremonial sharing of food, of personal stories, of hopes and fears, all centered in a safety net of open hearts, is how the homes are created and the recipients empowered.

“The word ‘company’ comes from the Latin — one who eats bread with you,” said Smith. “I believe we are more than ever in need of the traditional sense of company.

“It is important to walk in the shoes of another, and to build bridges of understanding between people who would otherwise not interact.”

Australian-born Smith is a filmmaker, chef, and home- and public-space designer. Her partner Goddard is a distinguished Hollywood filmmaker and daughter of well-known “Lost in Space” actor Mark Goddard.

Smith and Goddard share a passion for social activism. In working together on a web series called “The Delish Life,” starring Smith as host, they encountered Barry Bartlett, the young man aged out of foster care who reached out to them for help. Together, Smith and Goddard combined their creative talents to give A Sense of Home its distinctive vision, character and integrity. “All we want is to connect with one another,” said Smith of their work.

To be eligible for A Sense of Home, youth must have a referral from agencies in Los Angeles or surrounding counties, have secured an apartment, enrolled in college courses and/or be working 30 hours per week, and have a GED or be studying for it. “Obtaining the apartment is the most important factor,” said Smith. “We meet them halfway. They have overcome so much to get to that place.” Most have experienced homelessness and abuse. Eighty percent are young women, 30 percent have their own babies and many are guardians to their own siblings.

Smith and Goddard want this Los Angeles-based program and format to break out throughout the U.S. and the world. “There is so much need,” said Smith. “By creating the first-ever homes for these youth, ASOH brings together volunteers to serve as a family would. Utilizing donated furniture and home goods to make their first permanent living space beautiful, affords them dignity, self-worth and pride.”

For more about A Sense of Home, visit www.asenseofhome.org.

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