15th National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect
ACYF Commissioner's Award Book
Lois Smidt, a co-founder, serves as the Executive Director of Beyond Welfare, a community development initiative in Story County, Iowa. Beyond Welfare is committed to the leadership development and economic self-sufficiency of people marginalized by poverty, the safety of children and their families, and the engagement of community members in relationships with families leaving welfare and the working poor.
Ms. Smidt initiated the organization's "Circle of Support", the key structure for "building communities of caring across class and race lines where everyone leads." She contributed to the creation of Wheels to Work, a car donation program of Beyond Welfare that has transferred nearly 150 donated cars to families where transportation imposes a significant barrier to economic and family well-being. Ms. Smidt also founded the Community Leadership Team, a group of 50 to 60 families and allies who meet weekly over dinner in an effort to establish healthy social and community ties.
While a single mother of two children, Ms. Smidt used public assistance to meet her family's basic needs. During that time, she volunteered with the Ames Community Schools, served on the board of Children's Services of Central Iowa, taught parenting classes, and vowed to make something positive of her experience with public assistance.
Through Beyond Welfare and its Learning Center, Ms. Smidt now works to facilitate relationships across class and race lines. The intent is to build a diverse constituency of caring that addresses both individual and systemic poverty, and the safety of children and families, and to make this effort the work of the whole community. Lois Smidt has provided training and technical assistance across Iowa, as well as in several other states and Nova Scotia, on the community engagement and development strategies of Beyond Welfare.
We in Iowa much appreciate Lois Smidt for her commitment to thinking "outside the box" and creatively leading collaborative efforts to engage families in developing their strengths and becoming part of the solution; for her passion and ability to make the issues of poverty and child abuse and neglect the work of the whole community; and for her success at moving children and families that typically would be abandoned to "the system" into fully reciprocal community life.