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For New Port Richey man, mentoring kids is 'personal and spiritual'

When his job was eliminated, Jack Smith left a banking career to raise money for the RAP House, a shelter for at-risk teens.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

When his job was eliminated, Jack Smith left a banking career to raise money for the RAP House, a shelter for at-risk teens.

Jack Smith had worked at various banks for 42 years when his job at Patriot Bank was eliminated 18 months ago.

So he took the logical next step: He walked away from the corporate world and became a fundraiser and mentor at the RAP House for runaways.

It wasn't a huge leap for Smith, who had served on Youth and Family Alternatives' board of directors for 14 years. The contacts from his past life proved invaluable, as he pulled in support from the business leaders whose numbers are still programmed in his cell phone.

"He was like our conscience; he would bring us back into focus," said Sandy Barley, a New Port Richey real estate agent who met Smith 11 years ago through the Trinity Rotary Club. Smith has drawn support from the Rotary Club, which added "in the interest of the children" to its mission statement.

"It started as a community involvement endeavor. As bankers you're always looking for ways to give back to the community," explained Smith, 64. "It's personal and spiritual for me now."

His path hasn't always been an easy one. He sometimes carries his worn leather Bible with him, and can flip right to the passage in Psalm 30:5, which brought him and his wife some comfort when they lost a baby 30 years ago.

For his anger lasts only a moment,

but his favor lasts a lifetime;

weeping may remain for a night,

but rejoicing comes in the morning.

"You don't make that connection right away," he said. "The Scripture words became something that meant more and more."

He grew up in the Protestant Reform Church in America, but doesn't attend too many services these days. His wife and grown son both have health issues that prevent them from sitting or standing too long, so they're uncomfortable at church.

For Smith, his religion is his personal relationship with God.

"My religion mattered throughout my life. It has always been a part of who I am. It's always been there," he said.

But over the years, his faith has been tested.

He and his wife, Jean, "were dreamy-eyed about life, getting married and having children." They married in 1967 but weren't able to get pregnant for several years. When they finally did, the baby was born with a lung disease and died three days after birth.

They went on to have another son, Jeremy, who was born with the same disease and spent a month in the neonatal intensive care unit at All Children's Hospital. He survived and is now 30.

They also adopted a son, Jeff, from overseas, and although he was healthy most of his life, they later discovered he has an incurable brain disease known as Huntington's. He is now 37.

"There's a lot of people asking themselves, 'Why am I here?,' " Smith said. "Who would be there to take care of him if not us? I consider it our honor to take care of him as best we can.

"Those are real blessings," he said of his family.

He brought his sons, wife and mother to All Children's NICU 16 years later after Jeremy's birth to see where they spent so much time. His son returned as a big, strapping teenager, a far cry from the delicate infant who once lay in an incubator.

Smith turned to a couple of the mothers there at the time visiting their newborns. "I said, 'My son, this guy, was here. I want you to see your future.' I wanted them to feel like they had a future with their child."

His larger mission grew out of his experiences.

"How do children not become important to me under those circumstances? When I learned about Youth and Family Alternatives, I didn't know what I had to contribute, but I said, 'Why not'. It's been my honor to be associated with them ever since."

His main job now as a special events coordinator is raising money and doing community outreach for the RAP House, a runaway prevention facility in New Port Richey. The facility exposes children to a positive environment, including culture, job opportunities and role models. Smith is one of those people.

"Jack has always watched out for the RAP House," said Andy Coble, vice president of prevention services with Youth and Family Alternatives and director of the RAP House, adding that he's been very successful in his outreach and team building. "It's really been amazing."

John Walsh, vice president of the Pasco Economic Development Council, also knows Smith.

"Those connections go deep and far," said Walsh. "He's been one of the more credible or caring persons I know. He doesn't go out preaching his spiritual side, but he certainly does live it in his actions."

Smith contacted the council about a local family in need, and the agency adopted the family for Christmas.

George Magrill, chief executive officer of Youth and Family Alternatives, met Smith while he was working at a large bank in the 1980s.

"He was so welcoming that we weren't used to that from people in the business community, so I stayed in touch with him over the years and he eventually came onto the board," Magrill said. "I've recognized that he doesn't wear his religion on his shirtsleeve, but I've come to realize he's a very spiritual person."

While he admits it has been a pretty tough time raising funds in the current economy, he said Smith is "incredibly enthusiastic, and that's one of the things we valued with his involvement. He knows so many people in Pasco. He's been working hard to help us get the word out. That's been his greatest strength for us. There's so many people in the community that know Jack and feel good about him."

While the organization is secular, Magrill admires the faith that Smith brings to his job.

"Through the good times and not good times, that's been his compass, his belief in God," Magrill said.

"Faith In Motion" is a series of features about an individual or group doing something inspiring in the course of a spiritual journey. Ideas are welcome via e-mail. Send them to mindy.rubenstein@yahoo.com.

.Fast facts

About the shelter

For more information

about the RAP House, call (727) 835-1777 or visit

www.yfainc.org.

For New Port Richey man, mentoring kids is 'personal and spiritual' 02/19/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 19, 2010 1:08pm]

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