We had the good fortune of connecting with Mark Smith and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mark, what principle do you value most?
One of SBP’s core values is Constructive Discontent. This is something that resonated with me going back to my first day with the organization as an AmeriCorps member more than six years ago. Constructive Discontent means not being satisfied with the status quo. It means constantly seeking to improve. It also means that we have to voice our discontent in a way that is hearable to those around us because improving a team, an organization, or even an industry takes buy-in. I’ve found this to be incredibly motivating and liberating as a professional in that it gives me the onus to push for change when I see an opportunity to do something better. Giving people the opportunity, or even the mandate, to improve their work-life or their community unleashes their potential for good. This is important to SBPnot only in terms of production and efficiency but also as a social service provider. We seek not only to improve the way we do our work but to also reduce the suffering that residents experience after a natural disaster. In order to achieve that mission, we have to improve and change natural disaster recovery in this country.
Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
One of the things that I am most proud of is the number of people I’ve been able to serve through my work over the last seven plus years. Not many people are fortunate to have a career through which they know that their hard work will make a tangible difference in the life of a person in need. Over the years with SBP, I have had a hand in helping hundreds of families return home after natural disasters. Some of those families really stick with you. Ms. Cimmino who was finally able to get back to the home where she raised 7 children. Ms. Hudson who was sleeping on the ground in her home because the flooring system had completely collapsed. The Beltrans who were finally able to move back home two years after Harvey and, after living out of backpacks, had their home completely furnished. I’ll never forget the face of their son staring (way) up at Coach Mike D’Antoni as he signed a basketball for him to go on his brand new dresser. These moments make me incredibly grateful to be able to do what I do. Seeing other people happy also makes up for all the sacrifices it took to get here. Living on $1,000 a month in NYC while working full-time. Moving four times in 5 years to support newly disaster-impacted communities. Long hours or spending weeks away from home on deployment. Knowing that my discomfort pales to those who have been impacted and having the ability to mitigate their suffering is an incredibly motivating feeling. I think the thing that I would tell other people is that I’m not all that special. I joined SBP as a construction project lead but was terrified of using a nail gun. I got over it and rebuilt three houses in my first ten months. I went from being an AmeriCorps member one month to be being responsible for hiring and overseeing twenty AmeriCorps members the next month. I don’t think I’m all that special. I think that I’m lucky to have found work that I love and I keep trying to be better at it every day so that I can help more people. Anyone can do that if they have the mind to. I think people would be amazed at what they can accomplish when they find work that is fulfilling. I can’t think of work that has a greater purpose than serving others.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
That’s a tough one! There are so many places to go! The first thing would be a tour of all of the great little taco stands around the city. The lengua taco from the truck across from Alabama Ice House is a must. Drinks at sunset at St. Arnold’s is a have-to-do. A day on the beach in Galveston for sure. I love the museums in Houston. The Museum of Natural Science is AMAZING and the staff is very kind and informative. You could lose a whole week right there. I love taking friends for brunch at the Dunleavy as well and then for a walk or bike ride on Buffalo Bayou. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I want out to shoutout and give thanks to AmeriCorps. For those of you who don’t know, AmeriCorps is a national service program through which an individual can serve their community, receive a modest living stipend, receive a financial award to pay off student debt/pay tuition, and gain valuable professional experience. I stumbled into AmeriCorps after working a plethora of jobs and internships in sales, customer service, retail, and politics. I was in my mid-20’s and was lacking direction but I felt a deep desire to do something that made the world around me better. That’s when I found AmeriCorps. My first year in AmeriCorps gave me the opportunity to support inner-city after-school programs in my hometown of Buffalo, NY. After completing that term, I wanted to be more hands-on when providing help to communities in need which is what brought me to SBP. AmeriCorps gave me the opportunity to serve my community, work with other service-minded individuals, obtain professional experience, and work with a host of mentors who would help me grow in my career as a nonprofit professional. Now I have the opportunity to give back by supporting SBP’s AmeriCorps program in Houston which has over 60 individuals serve in our AmeriCorps program every year.