Yes, academic degrees are important. But Brittany Smith believes that it’s equally important to say yes to opportunities and have the confidence that doors will open, even if they don’t lead you to your original plan.
Smith, 36, spent her childhood in a small Wyoming town and her teenage years in a remote community on the Wind River Reservation. She did what she could to support others and didn’t even realize it was called “volunteering.”
“In both of these communities, helping out your neighbor was just what you did. No questions asked,” she says.
When Smith started college, she wanted to study music therapy and bring relief to people through music. But she changed her focus and earned her bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies in 2009. Smith started working as the program coordinator for Discover Goodwill of Southern & Western Colorado, where she earned a Colorado Innovation Award for developing new techniques to help clients search for jobs.
She spent more than four years at Goodwill before moving on to Early Connections Learning Centers, where she focused on recruiting, training and retaining volunteers and keeping them excited about what they were doing.
“Volunteering isn’t just giving your time for free,” Smith says. “Volunteering is the best way to make a difference in the areas that matter to you most. If you want to truly make a difference in this world, volunteer and vote.”
Early Connections President and CEO Liz Denson praised Smith’s “positive personality, drive and passion for doing the best job she can.”
In May 2021, after six months as the volunteer coordinator at Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, Smith joined Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado as the volunteer engagement manager.
By then, the COVID pandemic had depleted the ranks of volunteers, who are the backbone of so many nonprofits.
"Volunteering is the best way to make a difference."
“With multiple shutdowns and distancing, I’m sure I’m not the only one who witnessed a loss of engagement, morale and sense of community,” Smith recalls. “We saw a huge turnover of volunteer professionals within Colorado Springs and nationwide.”
As she pointed out, that caused a massive loss of institutional knowledge for nonprofits that struggled to rebuild their volunteer recruitment and engagement efforts, making it even more important for others to step up.
“The knowledge that each one of us holds should be shared in any way possible,” she says. “Your expertise, knowledge and energy are so valuable and treasured, even if you can only give a little or only give once.”
Chris Wallis, previously Smith’s supervisor at Care and Share, says volunteer hours increased by 25 percent while she was volunteer engagement manager.
“In all her interactions, she demonstrates grace, warmth, vision and executive leadership in pursuit of Care and Share’s mission,” Wallis wrote.
In February 2023, Smith was promoted to Care and Share’s volunteer engagement director. She provides direction and leadership for the volunteer program as the organization expands its services in southern Colorado. She also uses the expertise she’s picked up in previous roles to recruit and train volunteers and keep them coming back, and to develop relationships with community partners.
Although Smith prefers to say she’s been lucky, her proudest professional accomplishment is “developing friendships with a great group of professionals and volunteers to stand by me, help inform my decisions and help me continue to make this community a great place to live.”
To that end, Smith volunteers with political organizations, the U.S. Forest Service and Big Brothers Big Sisters. She has a family member with a disability and recently started volunteering with Special Olympics.
She praised her husband, Drew, for his support and understanding; he rearranges his schedule to meet their family’s needs while she’s working evening and weekends, pursuing her passions.
“I am fueled by human connectedness and innovation,” Smith says. “I truly believe that, with connections and the correct outlets, every person can leave this world a better place.”