Charmaine Smith Maximum Mom

Charmaine SmithParenting can be a trying, demanding, exciting, never-dull, rewarding job. At least, Charmaine Smith thinks so.

Smith is the director of the Salvation Army McGowen Family Residence, a facility that offers shelter to single women and their children, and the recipient of the 2012 Maximum Mom Award. The award is given each year to a woman who possesses a strong moral character and serves as a role model for those in her care.

Smith received the Maximum Mom Award on May 23 at the Sixth Annual Nominate HER Awards Luncheon, sponsored by Houston Woman Magazine.

Smith was nominated by Teresa Waldrop, a Family Residence neighbor and volunteer. She first met Smith after inquiring about providing pro-bono legal services to some of the residents. 

Waldrop said, “I could tell at our initial meeting that Charmaine was passionate about her job and the role the facility plays in helping families in need. She wasn’t one who sought the limelight by doing good deeds; she just did good deeds.”

Smith joined the Salvation Army in 1976 when she married her husband Fred, the son of Salvation Army officers. Living and working in various positions with the Salvation Army, she and her husband embraced its mission to serve those less fortunate.

In 1985, with their five-year-old daughter in tow, they moved back to Houston, Charmaine’s hometown, and into the Salvation Army Harbor Light Center where they still live. She began as the Casework Coordinator at the Family Residence. She served in this capacity until 1997 when she became director of the facility. 

The McGowen Family Residence is primarily a residence for women and their children, but it also serves as a temporary residence for cancer patients and their families undergoing treatment at the Texas Medical Center. The residence can house just over 100 women and children.

Each family has its own room in the dormitory style building. The kitchen serves three meals a day and an after-school snack for children returning from school. An on-site commissary provides toiletries, diapers, feminine hygiene products and other essentials for residents. But, the facility is more than just a place to stay.

The program is designed to nurture the whole person while preparing each for independent living. A caseworker sits down with each client when she enters the facility and, with them, puts together a case plan. Those who are working or going to school are encouraged to continue doing so. Others start with community college or certificate programs. Various life skills classes — financial planning, GED, computer literacy and job readiness — are offered on-site. 

For those with little ones, a nursery and early learning center are on-site, so the women can take those classes, go to school  or work. Counseling services and tutoring are provided for children, and counseling is also available for the women. 

The Home Sweet Home program assists residents in their transition to independent living by providing home furnishings, financial assistance and a year of case management.

“What we’re doing here is old-fashioned,” Smith said. “Say please and thank you; tell the truth; make your kids behave. We’re trying to bring healing through different means, whether it be counseling or education or taking them on a field trip.”

Clients come in seeking refuge from a variety of circumstances — drugs, alcohol, domestic violence, the welfare trap, lack of education or unemployment. 

“Some of them are so wounded  they don’t believe they can be anybody other than who they’ve been,” Smith said. “The challenging part is helping people believe in themselves, that they can succeed, that they can be whomever it is they want to be.”

Smith’s training as a licensed chemical dependency counselor has prepared her for working with her clients. She doesn’t counsel directly, but she does use her insight to give suggestions to staff. 

“So many of the people who come in here, if they haven’t personally experienced substance abuse, are the child of or the spouse of,” Smith said. 

Managing people, in the various stages of their journeys, is the most enjoyable and most challenging aspects of Smith’s job.

“We’re dealing with every kind of person, from a variety of backgrounds and cultures,” Smith said. “We’ve seen miraculous turnarounds, and others look you in the eye and say you haven’t done one thing for me. We just say the Serenity Prayer, and do what we can do.” 

Smith is also a public face for the Family Residence. She enjoys interacting with volunteers, donors and media, helping others see that the Family Residence is a good investment and encouraging them to support the work being done there. 

But Smith plays more roles than the guardian of her residents. Sometimes she has to be a landlord. Residents receive warning letters when they break the rules. All the necessities have to stay in working order, from the toilets and showers to the washing machines and dryers. Other times, she is counselor and friend to residents, bringing in special programs that teach them a new skill, or noticing and mentioning their beaming glow after receiving a Mother’s Day hair, makeup and wardrobe makeover. Smith has been entrusted with great responsibility. But to her, this isn’t anything extraordinary. She’s simply doing what God has called her to do. 

Smith said, “It’s all about faith and believing I’m doing a good thing. It’s not based on emotion. It’s a commitment.”

Kim James is a free-lance journalist and staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine.
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