Marriage has been described romantically as ‘two hearts beating as one.’ And while that phrase certainly applies to Brooke and Bryan Smith, perhaps an even better way to describe their union might be ‘two hearts caring as one.’
In the world of local service and community impact, the Smiths are a power couple.
LCCM and the United Way are two of the highest-profile, most integral, and most diverse nonprofits in the county.
The Smiths have been married for ten years, but each has only been in their respective roles for relatively short periods of time. While there are some unavoidable cross-over aspects to their personal and professional lives, the Smiths diligently guard against anything that can be construed as conflicts of interest.
Love brought them together, but what is love but God’s hand at work?
“We’ve talked about it, ‘What’s this look like?’” said Bryan Smith. “The thing that has put my heart at ease is that the people who know Brooke and I, they know us. It’s our faith and work. There’s nothing we want more than for the community we live in to prosper. You do this for the passion. It is unique. But if anyone truly knows us, they wouldn’t be surprised.”
“I do think it’s unique,” said Brooke Smith. “Many people have made me aware of that fact. I had just accepted the job with the United Way when he started the interview process at LCCM. We are both service-oriented. We are both born and raised in Lebanon County, and we are raising our family here. We want to see it be vibrant.”
Something else that the Smiths are currently sharing is their agencies’ local response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
LCCM operates Lebanon County’s food and clothing bank, the free noon meal program, and an emergency shelter for the homeless, among other services. The United Way’s role is one of collaboration and coordination, and fostering the process of bringing local agencies together for the greater good of the community.
While each plays a vital role in Lebanon County on a daily basis, both have witnessed an increased demand for their services as the seriousness of the pandemic has deepened.
“I see our role as being a convener,” said Brooke Smith, of the United Way. “We’re well positioned to have good relationships with schools and non-profits. During this COVID-19 crisis, with everything shut down, I feel like everyone was kind of working in their own lanes. We kind of stepped up, and organized weekly calls, just so everyone knows what other people are doing.”
“This is why we exist, for times like these,” said Bryan Smith. “Early on, we tried to be on the front end of it. We shut down the clothing bank, except for extreme emergency situations. From a noon meal and food pantry perspective, our services have increased. The noon meal is now in a to-go format and we’ve seen an increase from about 130 meals a day to 185 to 215 meals a day. With the food pantry, it’s more families than individuals.”
Brooke Chernich and Bryan Smith were high-school sweethearts at Annville-Cleona, but after graduation they went their separate ways. Years later, after they both had divorced, they reunited through social media.
The Smiths will celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary in December.
“There’s a much bigger plan for us,” said Bryan Smith. “If you try to figure it out, sometimes it can be frustrating. For some reason, we went through things apart. There are things that occurred in her life and in my life that didn’t make sense then. Now it makes sense.”
“If there’s anybody positioned to handle this coronavirus pandemic, it’s him,” said Brooke Smith. “Having an EMT background helps. He’s done a really good job of treating it like it’s another day. He gets up every day and goes to work, and people need him. From a professional standpoint, he has developed a strong partnership between LCCM and Palmyra’s Caring Cupboard. LCCM has really stepped up and made sure kids were fed.”
Before becoming LCCM’s executive director seven months ago, Bryan Smith served in a similar role as First Aid and Safety Patrol’s executive director and chief of operations. Brooke Smith has been in her position since August, after working as a pre-natal coordinator at Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County and prior to that as the director of community impact for the United Way of Lebanon County.
All impressive titles, but not as impressive as the work they’ve performed.
“LCCM and the United Way have been partners for decades,” said Brooke Smith. “We both made a pact early on that we didn’t want to have misconceptions about any of our collaborations. We both made it a point to our boards. We try to be very cautious and professional. But when organizations work together, we feel like it’s the best use of their resources.”
“We have four boys and we have a very active life,” said Bryan Smith. “When we finally get to sit down at the end of the day, we want to be husband and wife. During the COVID-19 crisis, because of the need for collaboration and partnership, we lean on each other more heavily. If you’re locked down, at home and out of a job, you’re looking for survival. We both are looking forward to getting back to detaching and getting back to a more normal life.”
In many ways, the Smiths are ordinary people doing extraordinary things. In other ways, they are setting examples that everyone in this time of crisis can follow.
“I absolutely think it’s a time to reflect on things,” said Brooke Smith. “We’ve been forced into this life of increased simplicity. We’re still very much a face-to-face, relationship-oriented community. It also brings to light inequities. I think about the most vulnerable people in our community. There’s a positive feeling when the members of our community say, ‘How can we help?’ It makes you feel proud to live here in Lebanon County.”
“I think how we’ve responded, individually, as people in our community, we’ve done an adequate job,” said Bryan Smith. “As agencies, I think we’ve done a pretty good job of it. We’ve seen a great outpouring from our community financially, and we’ve seen it very quickly. Things are going well right now. But we’re anticipating a need in the community over the next two or three weeks. We’re focusing on making the money last.
“Brooke and I are hoping for nothing but the best for the community we live in,” concluded Bryan Smith. “It’s awful. It’s terrible. But let’s look at what we have. We’re spending precious time with our family. God wants us to focus on Him. At Easter, during this time of re-birth, that message takes on an even greater significance. We will come out of it. But we can’t do it without being a community and sticking together.”
Service has the power to extract positives from negative situations.
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