Frances M. Smyth’s work with the local Habitat for Humanity, now completing its 29th and 30th houses this summer, is emblematic of the “can do” attitude of the Community Spirit Award recipient for 2010.
In 1994, Fran joined the board of directors for Habitat for Humanity of Laramie County. The local affiliate was struggling to raise $1,000 to purchase cookbooks that would be sold to build a Habitat house.
“If you’re going to build a whole house, you need to kick this into high gear,” Smyth remembers telling her fellow board members. She knew what she was talking about: as a teenager growing up in Huntington, Long Island, N.Y., her father — who was a firefighter, but had a contracting business on the side — taught his three daughters every aspect of the home construction trade.
Now in her 12th year as president of the local Habitat board, Smyth has raised donations, written grants, established business partnerships and recruited volunteers, all with the goal of building affordable houses for low-income people. Thanks to her extensive construction experience, she also can frame a house, hang drywall, install cabinetry and tackle just about any other job necessary to erect a home.
“I just think it’s really important to lead by example,” said Smyth, who donates an average of 30 hours a week to Habitat, working at the job sites as well as handling the organization’s accounting.
From a bare-bones organization that was struggling to raise money to build its first house, Habitat has grown to an organization with $1 million in funds, property and mortgage loans. This summer, Habitat is completing its 29th and 30th houses. Next year will mark the organization’s 20th anniversary, and its first homebuyer mortgage will be paid off.
Last November, under Smyth’s guidance, Habitat opened ReStore, a business that sells unused building supplies, appliances and furniture donated by contractors, individuals and home improvement stores. The new store keeps unused construction materials out of the city landfill, and many of the donated furnishings are new and in excellent condition, with only minor damage or blemishes. Sale proceeds help build more houses.
Smyth also was instrumental in forming a local chapter of the national Habitat for Humanity Women Build program and Youth Blitz Build another program started about two years ago in which college students volunteer to help nonprofit organizations.
“When you go home every day to your nice, warm, comfortable house, knowing that other people have that, too, makes you feel a little better about yourself,” says Smyth.
Since coming to Cheyenne, Smyth also has been a kitchen volunteer, past board member and delivered meals for Meals on Wheels.
In past years, Smyth also served on the Old West Museum board of directors, chaired the Western Spirit Art Show in 1998 and helped the museum develop a computerized archive of its collections.
She also is a member of Women’s Civic League and has served on its board in a variety of positions.
Smyth and her husband, Dennis, also have served for many years on the Cheyenne Frontier Days Ticket Committee.
Regarding her overall philosophy toward community service, Smyth said: “Live your life in the best possible way you know how, and understand that sometimes people just need a little help. If everybody just did something good at every opportunity, what a better community and a better planet it could be.”