Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously asked the question, “What are you doing for others?” to an audience in 1957.
King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert believes Duvall resident Laura Smith answers the question with her service and dedication to improve the quality of life for children and families in the Snoqualmie Valley. Smith was awarded the Martin Luther King Medal of Distinguished Service at a council meeting Feb. 25.
“Thanks to her leadership and dedication, the Snoqualmie Valley Community Network is working to promote and inspire youth to lead safe, healthy and successful lives,” Lambert said.
With more than 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector, Smith has worked in a variety of volunteer and leadership roles to improve her community. She taught at both high school and elementary levels in Colorado before moving to Duvall to raise a family.
Smith joined the Snoqualmie Valley Community Network in 2005 and became the organization’s third ever executive director in 2012. She said her work focuses on youth development, partnerships and community outreach, with emphasis on parent education and youth mental health.
“It’s important to note that when you live in rural King County, services aren’t as accessible as inside more populated areas,” Smith said. “We’re working alongside other nonprofits in the valley to really close up those gaps that exist.”
The community network was originally formed in 1994, along with more than 40 others across the state, as part of funding allocated by the state legislature.
Some years later, the recession ended state funding and networks were forced to choose between becoming a nonprofit, merging with another entity or going dormant. Smith said Snoqualmie Valley’s network became a nonprofit and remains one of only five still in action around the state.
“The superintendent of the Riverview School District said it from his perspective. It was like I was pushing a locomotive up a big hill, which took a while, and then all of a sudden it passed the hill and started going down the other side,” she said. “And now I’m running behind it and trying to catch up because the momentum has just been breathtaking.”
Smith said the organization brings community partners together to talk about issues that are challenging. Several campaigns and programs were developed following data from Healthy Youth Surveys.
Programs within the network focus on youth leadership, employment success, mental health, substance abuse and mentorship. Parents are also given the opportunity to learn the importance of guidance, monitoring and consequences for their children.
“We’ve been very purposeful by listening to kids talk about what they actually need in order to build the mentoring program and opportunities for connection,” Smith said.
The network is currently working on a kindness campaign to reinforce positive behaviors in local schools. She said the campaign emphasizes social emotional learning and building empathy, while modeling inclusion.
Smith said the youth suicide component provides the community with training related to stress, depression and suicide prevention. The organization aims to connect more students with an adult to confide in during tough times, she added.
How to Help a Friend training allows older teenagers to become peer trainers for younger students. She said more than 1,500 students in Snoqualmie Valley received suicide prevention training last year alone.