Every year in America between 8 and 10 million children are exposed to domestic violence in one form or another. 90% of those children are eyewitnesses to the crimes. For former NFL WR Steve Smith, these are statistics that he knows all too well. Smith’s mother is a survivor of domestic violence and it was through his own experiences as a child that inspired the launch of The Steve Smith Family Foundation in 2013. Together with Executive Director Gerard Littlejohn, who shares similar childhood experiences as Smith, the organization set out to serve the communities and families of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area. With the aim to prevent and spread awareness about domestic violence while also providing additional services to families in the community, both Smith and Littlejohn opened up about their incredibly gratifying and sometimes healing journey.
“Throughout my career, I had always been involved in the Charlotte area with different organizations and charities. This community is incredible and they work hard for each other. All of the causes we were doing work for were great. However, none of them affected me emotionally and mentally the way domestic violence did. For years, I woke up every day with that. I knew that I wanted to help families who had gone through and were going through what I did” Smith recalls. In 2013, that is exactly what The Steve Smith Family Foundation set out to do. Aside from victims of domestic violence, The Steve Smith Foundation also shifted its focus to complete family health and wellness. Littlejohn says “Growing up how we did, and myself growing up in North Carolina, we knew that there were other issues beyond domestic violence that we could help with. Homelessness and overall family stability were issues we wanted to meet head on as well”. Smith recalls how much those issue mean to him as well. “We knew the horror of domestic violence, but we also knew what it was like to go without a lot of basic needs due to our situation. Food, shelter, healthcare. There are too many that go without these basic things and we set out to change that the best we could.”
In 2016, along with Project 658 and Novant Health, the foundation opened up The Smith Family Wellness Center. The facility is home to free counseling for families and youth in the Charlotte area. It also provides free healthcare and services to those who are uninsured. By 2020, the facility has over 6,000 medical patients it is serving and nearly 2,000 counseling clients as well. “We are on the front lines making real change, lasting change. We want to make sure these families are set for life. That the services and help we provide truly impact and change their lives, especially the youth that we come in contact with. These moments can define the rest of their lives. We want to make sure we give them the best chance possible moving forward by getting personally involved and steering them in the right direction” Littlejohn says. “This is not about our name or any kind of publicity. These are real people and real kids that are on the other side of things and they need our help.”
In 2020 amid the Coronavirus pandemic, the work at The Steve Smith Family Foundation only ramped up according to Littlejohn. “With all the lockdowns and quarantines, we have seen a significant spike in domestic violence and needs for counseling services, we have seen a significant increase in people who need healthcare services. We have personally delivered over 2,700 meals to those in need since the pandemic began. It has been a challenge but one that we have met head on at full force.” Among these challenges, there has been one in particular that The Steve Smith Family sprung into immediate action to do their part. In the Charlotte-Mecklenberg school district alone, there are over 5,000 students who are deemed homeless. Because of these unfortunate circumstances, that is 5,000 kids who are at risk of falling behind in the educational gap. Enter, The Steve Smith Family Foundation. In August 2020, along with the school district, the foundation launched a virtual learning program and center that will accommodate the youth that find themselves in these unique circumstances. Currently, there are 100 kids enrolled in the program, all of whom have seen a significant increase in test scores and overall performance. To learn more about the program and donate to its advancement , please visit www.stevesmithfamilyfdn.org
Steve Smith, Gerard Littlejohn and The Steve Smith Family Foundation continue to fight every single day to give a voice to the voiceless. They are another example of a community that has turned their pain into triumph and in turn changed the lives of thousands and thousands of lives for the better, forever. “The work is not done. The work will never be done. We will continue to fight for those that need our services. Again, this is not about being a retired NFL star, or any publicity. We have walked in the same shoes as the families we serve and it would be a injustice to find success in this world and not do something to improve quality of life in our community while we are here. In the end, this comes down to impact and changing lives.”