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Spirit Awards winner: Joanna Smith

Joanna Smith, left, prepares to play Chinese checkers with Patricia Lee, a client at Secrets Loving Care Adult Day Service in Munster. Smith has volunteered at the facility for eight years.

Editor's note: The United Way of Porter County and The Times Media Co. are honoring eight winners of the second annual Spirit Awards. These individuals exemplify the spirit of of volunteerism.

Joanna Smith, Hammond

Occupation: Retired after 10 years as stadium control operations for the Milwaukee Brewers professional baseball team at Milwaukee’s County Stadium and Miller Park

Where/how she volunteers: Smith volunteers at Secrets Loving Care Adult Day Service in Munster. Her official title is transporter for clients, but she also serves as security, companion, personal hygiene caregiver and comedian, bringing joy to others. She has also been a volunteer through Retired Seniors Volunteer Program.

Why she volunteers there: For Smith, volunteering is a family legacy. She traces this tradition back several generations, citing in particular the influence of her late mother, Ollie V. Lyons. When Smith was young, her brother was blinded unexpectedly. Working 13 jobs to support her 16 children, Lyons taught Smith and her siblings to care for their brother. Instead of splintering the family, the incident became the family’s strength.

“My mother loved her children and she helped build our house. I remember how I saw my mother care for people through the heart,” Smith said. “She did it with love. There were no color lines. This is what I love to do every day — I do it with love.”

Volunteering at Secrets with her sister Cora, a facility owned by their niece, Ollie Sherrod, Smith said the “legacy of loving care continues.” Going back to her great-great-grandmother, Smith said, “Loving, sharing, and caring — that’s what they did.”

Particular skills used/gained: “I love to laugh,” Smith said. “I love being able to physically share with others things I can do. Someday I’m going to need help, and I hope someone will be around to help me.” She serves others using this approach: “Stay calm, strong and confident.”

How long has she volunteered there: Smith has volunteered at Secrets for eight years, but, as she noted, “I always had time to volunteer.”

Any other volunteering, past or present: In addition to volunteering for RSVP for five years, Smith is a volunteer advocate for senior and incapacitated adults. She was also recently awarded a certificate from the Indiana Department of Health for completing 105 hours for the nurse aide training program.

Insights gained from volunteering: As a sign on the wall at Secrets states, “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.” Working with people at various stages in their lives, Smith realizes the need for flexibility. “When behaviors and personalities change, you have to improvise,” Smith said. “You have to be on the ball, hands-on, and I am.”

Advice to others who might volunteer: “Do you genuinely love yourself and love people?” Smith asked. “If you don’t have the confidence to help others, you can’t volunteer. You have to be sharp, clear and know that in this life I want to be around and I’m going to love life.” Also, Smith counsels, if you truly want to volunteer, don’t mention money.

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