Faith and a Message
Sylvia Smith owns a catering business, graduated from a top-notch culinary school and can create a seafood dish that would make you beg for a third and fourth helping. However, the one food that brings more enjoyment into her life is not something you would find in a four-star restaurant - unless of course you were looking at their children’s menu. Above all else, Sylvia likes to serve hot dogs, not because of the finite detail involved with their preparation, but because of the recipients and messages that come with them.
To explain, for the past 17 years, Sylvia Smith has been organizing drug-free seminars for at-risk kids throughout Washington D.C. With the support of her church, Metropolitan Wesley Zion Church, and employer, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Sylvia’s drug-free seminars have reached hundreds of kids who are exposed to the deadly consequences of illicit drugs everyday. For her efforts, the Drug Enforcement Administration recently recognized Sylvia as their Volunteer of the Year.
Sylvia has been with the DEA for over eighteen years and currently serves as a legal instruments examiner in the agency’s Diversion Control office. She is responsible for registering clients who are legally able to distribute or use controlled substances. In an average year, her office processes over 50,000 new registrants and re-registers over 300,000 licenses.
“Here at work, I get to learn a lot. DEA has definitely opened a lot of doors for me, both personally and professionally,” said Smith.
“Sylvia’s creativity and passion have made a significant impact in the lives of children all across this region. Kids have chosen a path free of drugs because of her efforts,” said Catherine Harnett, Chief of DEA’s Demand Reduction Office
When she is not at DEA, Sylvia can probably be spotted cooking in the kitchen at her church. It is in this kitchen that Sylvia is able to add a key ingredient to the highly-successful drug-free seminars she organizes for kids in her community. However, at first, her idea to combine food and a drug-free message did not go over too well.
“I found out through trial and error that when you serve the food first, people would eat and leave. So I decided to start with snacks. I am famous for making large snack baskets,” said Smith.
“Kids love food, especially when it is free. They start nibbling on the snacks and more importantly, they start listening and absorbing the information. Food has magnetic powers,” Smith continued.
The seminars come in two different sizes, large and small. The larger gatherings involve multiple community organizations and have attracted well over 200 teenagers. The smaller sessions, which occur about three times a year, reach about 50 kids according to Smith.
“The average person would have been afraid to give any kind of drug seminars near our church. There is a lot a drug activity and even murders around there. If it wasn’t for my faith, I wouldn’t have been able to pull this off.”
According to the church’s pastor, Dr. Lewis M. Anthony, it was important for the ministry to reach out to its neighbors in a responsible way.
“We wanted to let our community know that people in law enforcement are our friends, not our enemies,” said Anthony. “Sylvia has helped us do that. She is a treasure who has touched the lives of many people in generous ways.”
“It is up to us to make the communities we live in better,” said Smith.
In her spare time, Sylvia Smith is teaching kids how to cook because it keeps her students focused on maintaining a healthy lifestyle – a lifestyle that will never include drugs.