Children focus of Hinsdale mom's volunteer work

Volunteering has been a hallmark of Julie Smith's life since her kids were little.

She and husband Chadd moved to Hinsdale when their oldest two were just 3 and 1. By the time they were in elementary school, she was ready to lend a hand where needed.

"My favorite was helping Patty Mardula in the Madison library," she said.

Meaningful opportunities to help others also have arisen through her church, Avenue Christian Church in Clarendon Hills. There she has been on the steering team for the Safe Families for Children ministry and has served as a host family since 2018.

"The mission is to keep children safe and to keep families together," Smith said. "They do that through creating a support system for families who are socially isolated."

The nonprofit's goal is to provide temporary care for children - who range in age from infants to teens - who can't remain in the home but don't necessarily need to go into foster care. Smith said she and her family have hosted about eight different children, some for a few days and some for several weeks.

"I tend to go for the shorter visits," she said. "We had a baby in 2019 that was five months old that we hosted for five weeks. In COVID, summer 2020, we had her again for two weeks, which was awesome."

Smith said the cause interested her in part because her great aunt and uncle served as foster parents for many years.

"It spoke to me based on my family's past with foster care. This seemed like a whole support approach that really resonated with me," she said. "I think, too, just being a parent when my kids were little and my husband was traveling and we moved away from grandparents and friends. If you don't have a support system, it makes life's challenges really difficult."

She's currently helping Safe Families get the word out to schools in Chicago and the western suburbs - including Holmes School in Clarendon Hills and the Anne M. Jeans School in Willowbrook - so parents are aware of the services available.

"We've got a lot of families in need here, too," she said.

Smith also enjoys providing comfort to kids through her work with the Hinsdale Humane Society and DuPage Paws For People. She and her 3-year-old golden retriever, Cali, are pet partner certified. The two visit schools like Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South as well as the humane society and the fire and police station.

"I love to help and I wanted a golden retriever. It was a family plan. Everybody was excited about it," she said, noting that the family has two other pets - a 12-year-old cat named Nacho and a 6-month-old golden retriever puppy named Bear.

Smith also is involved with the Sunshine Gospel Ministries at her church and recently joined Assistance League Chicagoland West.

"There are a lot of amazing women involved in that organization, too," she said.

Smith is looking forward to celebrating Christmas with family and hopes to find a desktop calendar refill from Sass 'n' Class under the tree.

With her busy schedule, she'll need it.

- story by Pamela Lannom, photo by Jim Slonoff

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean