Dr. Faith Smart has been an active mentor in the Mentoring Moms Program of the Volunteer Center of Bergen County since May 2000. Since July 2001, she has mentored a young single mother with two special needs children, seeing her through educational and behavioral crises with her son, a serious family illness, two moves, loss of a job, a domestic violence incident and numerous other challenges. During this same period, Dr. Smart has served as a mentor for a teenage girl through the Harlem Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Initiative (HAPPI) at Harlem Hospital in New York City.
One of 13 children and a survivor of incest and date rape, in college, Smart found a facilitator and created a support group for women of color who had experienced incest and sexual assault. While still a student and very much in the throes of healing, she adopted a niece’s infant. Now the mother of three children aged two, six and ten, Dr. Smart holds a joint appointment in the School of Public Health and the Center for violence Research and Prevention at Columbia University. Despite her own demanding family and professional responsibilities, she has been a dependable, involved mentor.
Mentoring Moms, a program of the Volunteer Center of Bergen County, recruits, trains, screens, matches and supports volunteers who serve as friends, mentors and role models to isolated overwhelmed mothers referred by New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services, the state child welfare agency and the welfare-to-work program. Mentors develop trusting supportive relationships with mothers experiencing serious personal and family problems. They offer support, guidance, encouragement and advocacy as well as information on resources available in the community.
Dr. Smart exemplifies the qualities of a Mentoring Moms volunteer. She helps enhance self-esteem, improve parenting and life skills and strengthen parent/child relationships. She focuses on being a supportive role model helping her mentee set and work towards her own goals and cope with the stresses and demands of being a working single mother of special-needs children. The past winter was very difficult as her mentee’s mother and major emotional support was in a coma for weeks. Dr. Smart’s mentee had to oversee care for her multiply handicapped sister, handle her mother’s affairs and cope with significant stresses in her own life, including the loss of her job. At the same time, her teenage mentee was moving back and forth from home to foster care. Dr. Smart managed to be there for both of them – including a crisis food delivery and supportive visit to her Mom’s mentee, while the teen mentee was staying at her home. Her mentee’s life rarely goes smoothly, but Dr. Smart is available for support and guidance.
Dr. Smart’s mentee is now working part-time while preparing to take her GED. She has arranged for appropriate school placements for her children and they are involved in therapy. Dr. Smart attends almost every Mentoring Moms event and has provided valuable insights and guidance to other mentors.