Donald J. Smith, 64, of Continental has been inducted into the Ohio Senior Citizen’s Hall of Fame.
Donald J. Smith, 64, of Continental has been inducted into the Ohio Senior Citizen's Hall of Fame. The hall honors individuals age 60 and older who are native-born Ohioans or residents for at least 10 years. Nominations are evaluated on the impact of current contributions or a continuation of work and accomplishments begun before age 60.
Over the past 10 years, he has swam to raise money and awareness for Diabetes Youth Services. He has raised nearly $100,000 by swimming an annual water rite at the Defiance Area YMCA. In recent years, he has swum 300 laps, which is approximately 4 1/3 miles.
A longtime recreational swimmer, Don swims 70 laps a day, five days a week at the Defiance Area YMCA. Don first saw a pamphlet advertising Diabetes Youth Services' "Swim For Diabetes" fundraiser and he mentioned the event to his doctor, who offered to donate $100 if Smith swam 100 laps. That year, Don raised $1,700. Don and his wife, Connie, were invited to attend the awards ceremony during Little Shots Day Camp after his first swim. Since then, Don has been an integral part of Diabetes Youth Services.
The money that Smith raises supports the Big and Little Shots Camps, educational camps for children who have type 1 diabetes. These camps help teach the kids to manage their diabetes for the rest of their lives. It is the only nonprofit organization in a 34-county region that provides type 1 diabetes education, programs and support to children and their families.
Smith vows to continue to swim 300 laps for the charity every year as long as he is able. "I think it has reached the point that, if I swam three laps or 300, people are going to contribute anyway," he said." It doesn't matter to me what you give, just give from the heart. The donors are as much a part of it as I am. People trust me and my wife, Connie. They know it's a good thing and 100 percent of all donations go to the camp."
Smith and Connie spend four months a year doing fund raising. Smith says, "I grew up in New England and we do it the old fashioned way, by calling everyone. We tried an e-mail campaign - nobody responded. People like the calls, the personal connection, the excitement and being a part of the community spirit. One lady asks for an annual pledge reminder for her $5. It's all that she can give, but it means so much to her to do this. It means a lot to us that she can. We have about 300 annual donors and would love to reach 500 donors."Smith's efforts have earned him a prestigious Jefferson Award, which honors community and public volunteerism in America. He also has been recognized during the Diabetes Youth Services' Sweet Success Gala, and has been nominated for Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser during National Philanthropy Day for the Association of Fund raising Professionals.
Don's passion and philanthropic spirit have brought attention to Diabetes Youth Services that could not have been anticipated. Due to Don's efforts, more people in the region know about the organization and the services it offers to children with type 1 diabetes in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan. Currently there are approximately 3000 children with type 1 diabetes in this area.
Don remembers growing up in a small town in New Hampshire as the youngest of eight children. The town he grew up in was a close-knit, working-class community. As a sophomore in high school, he attended the YMCA Older Boy's Conference, and the following year he was elected president of the group. That same year, he was one of eight youths selected to represent New Hampshire in Washington, D. C. He went on to obtain a bachelor's degree in social work from Defiance College and a master's degree in counseling from Heidelberg University. He is a licensed social worker and professional counselor. In addition, he has served in the United States Army as a social worker specialist.
A retired probation officer in Putnam County, Don has served the Continental Masonic Lodge, Continental Lions Club as Past President and Lion of the Year, the Continental Community Club, the Defiance College Social Work Education Program Advisory Board and the State of Ohio Counselor and Social Work Licensure Board. He has been honored with various awards in his field for his outstanding commitment and leadership, such as Outstanding Commitment and Advocacy on Behalf of Survivors of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault from the Family Justice Center of Northwest Ohio, and the Schauffler Legacy Award from Defiance College.
Smith's next goal is to raise $40,000 annually and through awareness open a second camp for the children. "The first year I swam, we went to sport's night at the camp, and I received a card that read, 'Dear Mr. Smith, I found out my daughter has diabetes, and I was mad at God. Then I thought about it, and I get to meet wonderful people like you...'" Don recalls. "All the cards, hugs, tears - it doesn't matter; the appreciation and thank-yous are overwhelming - to know that a simple act can make a difference for so many people." Diabetes Youth Services has a policy that no child will be turned away because his or her family can't afford the camp and Don's commitment helps make this a reality.
The Smiths have been married almost 38 years. They have no children of their own and the children they help are their kids. Smith says, "When Connie and I serve meals to the kids at the camp, we get more out of it than they do."
Smith is an athlete, a professional and a philanthropist, but above all else, he strives to be a friend to everyone he encounters. He passes along these ideas to the kids he encounters. "The world is an easel... life is paint...you are an artist with a paintbrush...dream your dream...create a passion...together we can make a difference! Don't say I can't, say I'll try! If it is to be, it is up to me... don't be a taker, be a giver," Smith said.