CAM's Dennine Smith receives Jefferson Award

Jan. 25—When Indianapolis news station WRTV came to visit Coordinated Assistance Ministries (CAM) last month, CAM executive director Dennine Smith thought it was simply an opportunity for her to share the organization's mission with a wider audience.

But then the reporter on scene mentioned the Jefferson Awards, an achievement the news station hands out every month to men and women across Central Indiana who are making a difference in their communities.

A few seconds later, Smith was holding the award in her hand with a big smile across her face.

"I feel extremely honored," she told the Tribune recently, reflecting on that day and what it meant to receive what has reportedly been dubbed the "Nobel Prize for public service." "I always hope that my efforts to work with our clients positively impacts their lives.

"But most importantly, it's always about glorifying God," she added. "This acknowledgement allows me the opportunity to share the work we do at CAM and the ways we serve people in whatever way we can."

Smith has been CAM's executive director since 2019, and she noted that the organization — which provides resources and assistance to the area's homeless or near-homeless population — has already expanded so much during her tenure.

Part of that expansion was the opening of their North Union Street facility in 2022.

And thanks to a rigorous capital campaign and the community's generosity, the building is almost paid off, Smith noted.

"That's very exciting because when we first decided as a board and as leadership to step out basically on faith and pursue the purchase of a facility, we really didn't have the finances to do that," she said. "So it was really a faith walk. I have to applaud our board for their willingness to walk by faith because we really have been successful in our efforts."

And while accolades and awards are nice to receive, Smith said the biggest satisfaction is knowing the daily work that CAM does is ultimately changing lives.

"Relationships are such an important part of our work," she said. "It's very difficult to incite change or the need for change within someone if you don't have a relationship with them. It might be through something as simple as offering coffee or snacks, but that then gives us an opportunity to have real conversation with our guests. From that, relationships are built."

Smith added that once those relationships are established, CAM officials can introduce an individual to programming that the organization offers, like transportation services, as well as financial and housing assistance.

Because it's about offering a "hand up" and not a "hand-out," she explained.

"It's about empowering people," Smith noted. "We're trying to emphasize that word. It's about empowering people to make some changes in their lives. Our hope is that maybe we can be a catalyst to help folks be able to meet goals that they set for themselves.

"We also want to equip our guests with the tools they need to be successful in life," she added. "So for me, being a part of that is really something that brings me a lot of joy. That's really what makes me want to keep coming back every day and do the work that I do. I know it changes lives because I've seen it firsthand."