In 1989, David Smith packed up his bags and drove from Gainesville, Fla. to Gainesville, Ga. to answer an inner calling to serve at the Christian Education Center, now known as Center Point.
He started as a part-time director of adolescence and family counseling, then became the organization’s executive director in 1993.
Now, with 30 years under his belt serving Center Point, Smith will officially retire on Monday, March 25.
Smith said he’ll never forget the quote from his mentor, “To me this is the essence of life. To look back from the brink of death and say, ‘I’m glad I did that.’”
“To me, that sums it up,” Smith said. “I can’t think of a better way to spend 30 years.”
Over the past three decades, he witnessed countless success stories with both adults and kids.
One that had a huge impression on him involves a boy who he watched grow into an adult.
“I heard his background of the loss of his mother through drug addiction, and being in another state while his father was trying to get him back into Georgia,” Smith said.
The boy participated in a group led by Smith, and from that point he started flourishing and progressing through the trauma.
Smith said he watched the boy develop leadership qualities, graduate from high school and become a man who now works for a large company in Atlanta.
“He’s going to get married this summer,” Smith said. “Just to see young people or adults thrive and understand their purpose, that they have significance and that they’re worthy — that’s just the best thing ever.”
If Smith had to pinpoint his biggest accomplishments over the past 30 years, he would shine light on Center Point’s mentor program and expansion into South Hall.
The mentor program launched in 1994 thanks to the funding from a $30,000 priority needs grant. Smith said the goal was to connect kids who need additional support with positive adult role models.
When the program started, the organization aimed to have 20 volunteer mentors, but instead exceeded its goal with 40 people. Today, Smith said Center Point has 500 people mentoring in Gainesville and Hall County schools.
Marie Davis, the organization’s director of mentorship, said Smith has always been a kind, personally interested and supportive leader.
“This is the 25th anniversary of the mentor program and without his initiation of the project and his support throughout the years, we might not be celebrating our 25th anniversary.”
In 2013, Smith led Center Point into the process of purchasing a property in South Hall to expand its services. The Medical Center Foundation Golf Tournament and donations from the community helped fund the new campus.
Smith said the counseling suite opened up in 2015 and has continued to help build the nonprofit’s presence in the area.
Smith was the 2018 recipient of the Gainesville Kiwanis Club’s John W. Jacobs Youth Service Award. A friend nominated Smith for the award and collected 17 letters of support oh his behalf.
Whether assisting kids with becoming better behaved in the classroom, or counseling families to improve their home environment, Smith has worked on the front lines of Center Point.
Pat Burd, who served as a counselor at Gainesville High School for 12 years, said she witnessed Smith’s positive impact on students.
Whenever an emergency arose at the school regarding counseling, she said Smith would step in.
“He’s one of those rare people that loves teenagers even though he’s not one,” Burd said. “He has endless energy to show them he cares.”
Being able to help teenagers and children blossom into leaders, Smith said has made all of his years at Center Point worth it. Without the support of his staff and board, he said the nonprofit wouldn’t have succeeded with its mission.
Smith said God has blessed the organization with talented people who are committed to strengthening, enhancing and changing lives in the community.
He decided to retire from his position because, “It’s just my time and it needs somebody else.” Center Point has yet to announce the next executive director of the organization.
Although he has stepped down from his role, Smith said he won’t stray far away.
“The people and the mission, I’ll never tire of that,” he said. “I still plan to be involved. I can’t wait to see what God does with me next.”