. As executive director of HC DrugFree, Laura Smit reaches out to teenagers and parents on a personal level.
"She understands the concerns that many parents have, as well as being aware of the issues that teens are dealing with," said Tina Owens, vice chairwoman of the board of directors.
HC DrugFree, which aims to help Howard County residents raise drug-free teenagers, has grown under Smit, the mother of a freshman and a senior at Long Reach High School.
Her approachability as the face of HC DrugFree has prompted parents to call her directly in a crisis.
"A parent called me and said, 'I found out my son is smoking marijuana and he said it was no problem because he still gets good grades,'" Smit said. "These parents call me and say 'I don't know what to do.'
"It makes me, as a parent, want to help these parents."
Although HC DrugFree does not have drug counselors on its staff, Smit provides informal advice and helps callers find the facilities and resources they need.
"I think a lot of adults who work with youth have that preachy tone or come off as condescending, but Laura manages to come across with a genuine interest and sincerity," said 18-year-old Lauren Barr, who volunteered with Smit while at Mount Hebron High School.
"She's not faking it when she's asking your opinion or even mundane details about your school day."
Smit said she has to be candid with her target audience.
"The whole scare-tactic thing does not work. We need to stop scaring kids and saying no, and [start] giving them the facts," she said.
Her respect for teenagers' views is evident in her creation of HC DrugFree's first Teen Advisory Council this year.
"I want to get some kids who may have been in counseling for drugs who really have a lot to say," she said. "I'm looking for a variety of kids to provide the youth perspective to me and to the board of directors. I hope they will help me select pamphlets and DVDs for teens. I want their input on what would really appeal to teens."
Adults from the recovery community serve on HC DrugFree's Board of Directors and committees.
Smit "is always interested in bringing in the recovery community viewpoint," said Owens. "She's understanding of how people get in these situations and looks at it in a way that is very nonjudgmental."
Smit started working for HC DrugFree in 1999 as a paid coordinator for the teen job fair. Run by volunteer parents, HC DrugFree's leadership often changed before Smit became the organization's director.
"In 2000, it almost died so they decided to pay me five hours a week" to run HC Drug- Free, Smit said. Officially, Smit works 30 hours a week, but Owens said, "I guarantee you she works more than that."
With the Horizon Foundation's assistance, Smit was instrumental in incorporating HC DrugFree as a nonprofit in 2004.
"She has done a phenomenal job with this organization," Owens said. "To be a successful nonprofit, you need to have people who have a passion involved in it, and Laura is passionate about providing the resources the community needs."
In addition to her involvement with HC DrugFree, Smit is coordinator for the Coalition for Healthy Youth and belongs to numerous other community organizations, including the Elkridge Horizon Council and the Long Reach High PTSA.
Smit does it all with a smile, Barr said.
"When we were preparing for the job fair," Barr said, "it was a mad rush to get ready but she was just smiling ... thanking the people who set up booths. She just really seemed to be in her element then. I don't remember a time seeing her not smiling."
Smit said, "My passion is to keep teens healthy and safe and to set them up in life without any major setbacks. If I can just save one life, save one kid from being addicted, save one kid from being in a car accident, then I've done my job."