The Journal Gazette
Sunday, August 23, 2020 1:00 am

Volunteer Spotlight

Retiree helping in ways small, large

JESSICA GARVIN | The Journal Gazette

Faith and a personal connection led Debbie Smith to volunteer with The Lighthouse Biblical Life Recovery Center. The 65-year-old believes even the smallest task can make a difference in helping someone struggling with addiction recover. Her profile follows:

Daytime occupation: Retired twice, in 2013 after working in program management at Exelis and after a layoff, and in 2019 after serving as pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church.

City of birth: Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Current hometown: Fort Wayne

Family: Husband of 35 years Eric, a retired engineering manager from Harris (formerly Exelis), son Aaron, 32, a math teacher at Northrop High School, and daughter Sarah, 30, serving with AmeriCorps in Charlotte, N.C.

Volunteer position/organization: Volunteer with The Lighthouse Biblical Life Recovery Center. I have been helping with the renovation of the new residential facility on Hobson Road. I also serve as a volunteer with the Fort Wayne YMCA as the volunteer coordinator for the area branches. Usually I am connecting volunteers with NeighborLink Fort Wayne to work on their projects. My last project brought NeighborLink, the YMCA, and The Lighthouse together in one huge volunteer collaborating day. Just recently I became the volunteer treasurer for our church's preschool. During the school year, I tutor two students through Fort Wayne (Community) School's Study Connection.

Time volunteering with the organization: I helped Brandon Bower, executive director, with gathering various items when they established the Family Thrift Store after first meeting him in 2015, and I am helping with renovating the building for their new housing location on Hobson Road.

Why did you first get involved with the organization? Brandon approached me in my capacity as the pastor of Trinity UMC, and as I listened to his story, I realized how important his relatively new ministry was. I had an uncle who was an alcoholic and spent his last days at the Salvation Army. I would have preferred that he be able to go through a program like The Lighthouse so that he could have been a part of his sons' lives.

Do you have a favorite memory from volunteering? Just recently during NeighborLink's Be a Good Neighbor Week, I worked with a group from the Jackson Lehman YMCA branch's Leaders in Training camp to clean up the parking lot at The Lighthouse's new facility on Hobson Road. It was great to see the kids working together and learning how helping others can feed your soul. My son was also there helping. I shared with the youth how Aaron was often involved with my volunteering projects since he was a young child.

What is the biggest personal benefit you receive from volunteering? I began volunteering from an early age. I remember as a fifth grader helping catalog our small-town library. When I was in high school, the librarian arranged it so that I could receive course credit for all the hours I volunteered in the library. I often wondered why I was always driven to help others. During my time in Bible study fellowship, I came across the following verse of Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” That verse gave my life meaning. It is my purpose in life to help make a difference in the world.

What has surprised you the most about volunteering with the organization? There are many different ways that you can help an organization, which may seem insignificant to you but make a huge impact. Just knowing that I am helping to create a safe space for men recovering from an addiction so that they can become healthy in mind, body, and spirit and return to society as productive individuals is rewarding.

What do you find most challenging? The work I have been doing lately has been very physically challenging, pulling up carpet glued to the floor and working outside pulling weeds in 90-degree weather. My body is not as young as my volunteer heart anymore.

What is your strongest belief/personal philosophy about the cause? Alcohol addiction ruins so many lives. Helping a man return to his family and job with a healthier outlook on life is invaluable.

What is the best advice you would give someone interested in volunteering or working for your cause? Be willing to do even the smallest of tasks. No job is too small when it serves a greater cause.

What are your hopes for and how do you see the organization/cause changing in the next five years? Increased financial support from churches, businesses, and individuals. Personal engagement with more people in the community.

What are your hobbies/something people might not know about you outside of your volunteering? When I retired last year, my husband and I purchased bicycles. I had not ridden a bike for over 40 years. Our goal is to ride 500 miles in 2020. We really enjoy the fantastic bike trails we have available to us in the Fort Wayne area.

Nominated by: Brandon Bower, Lighthouse founder

Reason for nomination: Debbie has been a faithful supporter and volunteer of The Lighthouse for several years. We appreciate her heart for our mission and her passion to help those who are struggling with life-altering issues. Debbie is always looking for ways to help whether it is providing snacks, painting, or washing windows. We wish we had more volunteers like Debbie.

Organizations that wish to highlight an individual for the Volunteer Spotlight feature can contact Jessica Garvin at 260-461-8364 or email

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