An Interview with Shawna Smith – 20+ years of changing lives

How long have you worked at Hope Builders?

22 years! I started in 1998 and assumed the role of Executive Director in 2008.

What drew you to Hope Builders?

The first time I walked into the Hope Builders lobby at 801 North Broadway in downtown Santa Ana I knew without speaking to a single person that I was somewhere special. While I could not have imagined in those first moments what was to follow, I knew I was meant to be part of it.

How would you describe your first few years?

My early days at Hope Builders were definitely a case of “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called”! Without a doubt, my journey at Hope Builders has been one of mutual transformation. I had a steep learning curve when I was brought on to provide mentorship and case management to our young adults. I knew Sister Eileen had taken a chance on me – a peppy white girl with more enthusiasm than experience. It took a good three months before the trainees knew what to make of me. But like our young adults, I was determined, and eventually gained their trust.

What has kept you motivated over the years?

There are so many awe-inspiring stories of hope as I think back over my years at Hope Builders. The ones that mean the most, however, are the times I’ve bumped into a Hope Builders’ graduate in the course of my everyday living. One that particularly sticks out for me is Miguel. I had stopped off at the grocery store on the way home from work. A man in collared shirt, tie, and sweater vest looking very sharp approached me. After a few seconds I recognized him as one of our first benchmakers—the custom furniture makers involved in our founding’s early social enterprise.

As we caught up on the past 15 years, he shared about his life since completing Hope Builders. He’s now the district manager for a cabinet company with offices in Orange County and the Inland Empire. He is a proud husband and father. Before he left, he said, “I hire a lot of people in my job. I am always looking for the opportunity to give someone a chance. I learned that at Hope Builders.”

What is at the core of your leadership?

As cliché as it may sound, Hope Builders has taught me the power of true care and compassion as bridges across anything that divides us – zip code, education, language, and past wrongdoing. As is usually true in this type of arrangement, I have received more than I’ve given.

Following the lead of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, I’ve focused my leadership on unlocking access to opportunity for young adults in Orange County who have previously only known their limits.

What would you like to say to Hope Builders’ supporters?

We are all Hope Builders.

Thank you for making our work possible. With an incredible team of professionals, your support has built Hope Builders into an impactful organization with a strong legacy of hope. If our first twenty-five years is any indication, just imagine what we can accomplish in the next twenty-five.