New CAC leader reflects new skills for nonprofits

The anti-poverty agency helps the poor in a number of ways

July 22, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

James B. Smith began work this week as director of Howard County's Community Action Council, replacing Dorothy L. Moore, who retired Friday after a 36-year career.

Smith, 36, of Owings Mills, a senior program director at the Baltimore Community Foundation who previously worked at the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, was hired from among 110 applicants for the $75,000-a-year Howard job.

"He was on a fast track. It's going to be great," said CAC board President Deborah Harris, who added that Smith "has all the skills we're going to need."

While working for the alliance, where his job was to help attract companies to the Baltimore region, Smith said he realized his interests lay more with helping people escape poverty.

"As I was traveling across the country, it became inherently clear to me that the jobs we were bringing were not for people who did not have college degrees. I became real sensitive to the need of people who come out of poverty," he said, which is why he left for a job at the Baltimore Community Foundation, a collection of more than 400 charitable funds worth about $177 million.

The Howard County job, he said, will merge "my administrative skills and my passion for helping people."

The Community Action Council is a quasi-governmental anti-poverty agency, administering programs ranging from Head Start for preschool children to a food bank, and aiding poor people behind on their rent and utility bills and who are facing homelessness.

Local officials seemed pleased to get Smith, who they said combines the best qualities of youthful energy, concern for the poor and the business skills now considered necessary for nonprofit groups.

The contrast between Smith's background and Moore's illustrates the trend.

Moore, a Howard County native who grew up in rural, segregated Howard County, began her career in 1969 as a community worker and learned on the job, eventually rising to be agency director without a formal higher education.

A Baltimore native, Smith said he graduated from Coppin State University, has a master's degree in public administration from the University of Baltimore and is pursuing a doctorate in the same field.

"These days, nonprofits, to be successful, have to have some business smarts," said Susan Rosenbaum, director of the county's Department of Citizen Services and a member of the search team.

Rosenbaum said Smith stood out. "I was very impressed with him," she said, adding that Smith had met County Executive James N. Robey while Smith was vice president for corporate development at the economic alliance. He worked there from 1999 to August 2003, serving as a vice president since January 2001.

In addition to abundant energy, "I think he'll look at things with a new perspective," Rosenbaum added. "Dottie [Moore] did a great job, and he'll be able to pick up and put his own mark on the agency."

Smith, who began his new job Monday, said his first task is to become familiar with the agency and his board as he fights a battle familiar to all those who help Howard County's poor -- raising public awareness that poverty exists in one of Maryland's wealthiest counties.

"The misconception is that because Howard County is so affluent, there aren't any poor people," Smith said.

Another problem facing the agency is how to resolve the so far unsuccessful 16-month attempt by Howard's Head Start workers to organize under the Service Employees International Union, AFL-CIO, and negotiate a labor contract with the agency.

Moore had resisted the move to unionize, but Harris predicted the problem soon will be resolved.

"The union is a wonderful asset to employees who want it. We will work closely with the union. We will sign a contract very soon," she said.

Smith said he has personal experience in Howard County as a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, a national fraternity with a Columbia chapter that he joined while a senior at Coppin State. The group distributes college scholarship money and does community service, including food giveaways, voter registration, and mentoring for African-American boys who are students at Long Reach and Oakland Mills High schools.

Smith said he's eager to get down to work.

"I'm looking forward to a long journey," he said.

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