Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight


December 17, 2003:

Building bridges in Philadelphia
Carol A. Smith '78 helps city kids become friends and develop skills

Several months after Carol A. Smith '78, became executive director of Woodrock, a nonprofit youth development organization, she visited its 10-acre camp in Sanatoga, Pennsylvania. She arrived just as a three- day retreat for fathers and sons focusing on bonding and parenting skills was concluding. "A group of fathers stood up in front of their sons and told them they were slashing their tires because they never wanted to leave," she says. "It was definitely one of those goose bump moments that reinforced, for me, the importance of what we do."

That retreat is just one of Woodrock's many programs that help disadvantaged urban youth from Philadelphia develop healthy relationships with family and friends, and build leadership, outdoor, and life skills in a collaborative environment. Woodrock was founded in 1967 in response to racial tensions in Northeast Philadelphia as a summer camp for boys. "The concept was that camping would be a good way to build bridges with kids," says Smith. By working with public schools and community organizations, Woodrock now serves over 1,000 fourth through twelfth graders, both boys and girls, per year through in school, after school enrichment, and summer camp programs that promote interracial, interethnic, and intercultural understanding.

As executive director since December 2002, Smith raises funds, develops and monitors its programs, and hires staff, among other responsibilities. Woodrock's activities, says Smith, "arouse children from their urban torpor and make them remember that the world is full of interest and possibility for them. This is so key for children who grow up in under-resourced circumstances."

On any given day a class of seventh graders in a local public school might be conquering the "plate challenge" — they try to step on plates while keeping their feet off the ground and touching their classmates; while ninth and tenth graders in Woodrock's outdoor leadership force instruct fifth graders at a local charter school about pollution. "We do a lot of activities around teamwork and problem solving," says Smith.

A St. Louis Native, Smith feels strongly about serving the community. A psychology major at Princeton who later earned her doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, she was a college administrator for 18 years, most recently at Drexel, where she was a senior associate dean of students and director of diversity. But in 1998 she transferred her administrative skills to the nonprofit world, as executive director of the Philadelphia Black Women's Health Project, where she remains involved, and later as chief operating officer of Big Sisters of Philadelphia, before coming to Woodrock.

"I hope that my experience and education can be used as a resource to help bring information and opportunity to an under-resourced community," says Smith. "Working this way connects me to my community and that feels good."

By Kathryn Levy Feldman '78

Kathryn Levy Feldman '78 is a freelance writer in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.