BENTON HARBOR — The Southwest Community Action Agency has a familiar face leading its organization these days.
Kim Smith Oldham, who has worked in various positions with SMCAA for more than 23 years, became executive director this year after serving the position in the interim since January.
Prior to this post, Oldham most recently served as operations director with oversight for all agency staff, offices and operations.
Oldham joined the agency as a receptionist in 1997 – an occurrence that is quite happenstance.
At the helm of the SMCAA, Oldham will be in charge of an organization that promotes the health, education and welfare of low-income individuals and families in Berrien, Cass and Van Buren counties.
Oldham sat down with Herald-Palladium Staff Writer Tony Wittkowski regarding her new role and how she got to where she is now.
What was your previous position with SMCAA before becoming director?
I was the operations manager.
What did you do in that role?
I oversaw the community development department, which includes housing counseling, supportive housing programs, plus I also was assistant to the executive director.
What would you say has been the biggest transition for you?
I have to say this has been a smooth transition. We have a wonderful, hardworking staff and that has made it a smooth transition.
What were you doing before taking a secretarial job at SMCAA 23 years ago?
I was a receptionist at a doctor’s office. It’s a funny story because I was looking for a job and one of the patients at the doctor’s office was asked to join SMCAA. When I interviewed for a job with SMCAA, the person conducting the interview was the patient at the doctor’s office. She was hiding behind the door. And then she jumped out and I kind of knew I had the job.
But I had no idea what a community action agency was. Through the years, my heart and soul has grown and I am truly about helping people and changing lives.
At what point did you realize you wanted to be this organization’s executive director?
I don’t think I ever really had that in my head. Someone along the lines saw something in me that I didn’t see. I don’t know how to explain it. I just did my job and jumped in when something needed to be done.
What kind of questions do you get when people find out you work for a community action agency?
What do you do? I feel we’re the best kept secret sometimes. I do get on my soap box to educate people on what we do. There are a lot of people working paycheck to paycheck and that’s where we come in.
Well, now I’m asking you to get on your soap box once more to make a pitch, letting people know what are some of the major programs SMCAA offers.
We have commodity food programs that help seniors and families. We also have a homeless shelter in Van Buren County. We offer home-buyer education courses and a rental/renters counseling course that will be rolled out in a couple months. We have rental assistance programs as well.
What would you say is your favorite part of the job?
Helping people. That’s what we’re here for. We’re here to help the community.
Do you have a particular memory that stands out to you?
You know when I first started working at the agency, I would take a lot of work home with me. There are times when clients fall through the cracks. But there is one particular client that I worked with who stands out.
The client had a daughter who had sickle cell and had a stroke. My phone rang and the client needed food. Her daughter was in Mary Free Bed and she was using all her money for gas. She was renting to own a washer and dryer and was not within her budget. She needed those appliances because her daughter, who was bedridden, was coming home. We were able to get a washer and dryer for her. It happened the day after the daughter was brought home.
For me it was a blessing because I got to meet her daughter. She introduced me to her daughter as “your guardian angel.” My mouth dropped because I don’t think of myself as that. They have since moved out of the area and as far as I know, they are striving now.
Where do you see the organization heading in the next few years?
I see us strengthening and improving the agency’s operations while ensuring exemplary programming and long-range stability. I would like to diversify revenue and expand our community partnerships.
What are some of the ways people can help?
We accept volunteers. They pack commodity food for seniors. We also take donations as a private nonprofit agency. We are federally and state funded. Sometimes we need matched funds for some of our programs. Our website is www.smcaa.com or you can call 269-925-9077.