Los Angeles Educator Teaches Students the Value of Volunteering

15 Years of Dedication to Helping Those Living with HIV/AIDS
By Megan Martinez, Communication Manager
Photos Courtesy of Dignity Health – St. Mary Medical Center.

Dignity Health – St. Mary Medical Center recently honored Tim Smith, a teacher with the Los Angeles County Office of Education, for 15 years of voluntary service to the hospital. St. Mary Vice President of Mission Integration, Sister Celeste Trahan, CCVI, presented Tim with the hospital’s Humankindness Award for volunteering, along with his students, at the St. Mary CARE Center Food Pantry.

The CARE Center is an HIV/AIDS treatment, education, resource, and prevention program serving the greater Long Beach community. Newly appointed Executive Director of the CARE Center, Paul Lovely shared that twice a month, CARE hosts a Food Pantry for its clients led by dietician Tammy Basile. Tammy and Paul have both worked for the CARE program for the past 20 years and are proud of the tremendous growth of the program and its services to the community. Tammy added, “The Food Pantry program would have been difficult to sustain without the continual dedication of Tim and his wonderful students. As a dietician, it is so important for our clients to receive the nutrition they need. One aspect of living a full life for those individuals with HIV/AIDS is healthy eating habits.”

For the past 15 years, Tim has brought hundreds of students together to count, sort, and bag healthy food for Long Beach’s HIV/AIDS community served by the CARE Center. “My students and I are extremely grateful to have had that opportunity to not only volunteer, but to volunteer for persons in need and a program that is so crucial.” Tim became familiar with St. Mary Medical Center’s CARE program for persons living with or affected by HIV/AIDS while his partner was working as a social worker at St. Mary. It was brought to his attention that the CARE Food Pantry could be an opportunity for his students to help and give back to the community in a very meaningful way.

Sister Celeste and hospital leadership expressed their gratitude for Tim and his students. She shared that the founding Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word started this community work with the HIV/AIDS population suffering in Long Beach 31 years ago. “CARE continues its important service work today helping 1,700 clients because of the generosity and dedication of people like Tim and his students,” stated Sister Celeste.

Tim has spent most of his teaching career of 34 years educating students on basic life skills to be more independent in the future, from self-care skills like shaving, to counting money and paying for purchases, to riding the bus and shopping at the supermarket. All of Tim’s students, ages 18-22, have some degree of intellectual disability; in addition, some also have autism, orthopedic impairments, and/or hearing or visual disabilities. “Like everyone, their personalities are unique, yet collectively they are some of the greatest souls on the planet,” said Tim Smith. “Working with them at this age, where I am teaching them life skills and vocational skills and things that will really make a difference in their being more independent, fully functioning human beings in the future, has a great deal to do with why I continue working in this field.”

Tim never imagined he would be a teacher, but he was good at it. “Now I can’t imagine the life I would have had without my students as such a significant part of it. I have learned so much from them. The ways in which I celebrate even the slightest growth or progress that the students make in working toward their goals has taught me so much about the way that anyone should approach life.”

Tim has taught these young adults about the significance of helping others and the importance of being contributing members of the community by donating time to the CARE Food Pantry. Tim shared, “The community has learned to see how capable and productive the students can be as a result of their volunteer work in this situation. Not only have my students had an opportunity to help others in volunteering at St. Mary, but they have had the opportunity to further develop a work ethic and work skills which will hopefully transfer into paid employment in the future.”

Dignity Health – St. Mary Medical Center’s Hospital President, Carolyn Caldwell added, “Dignity Health believes in the healing power of humankindness and that we all hold the power to heal. Tim and his students have helped each other, our employees, and hundreds of CARE clients through their generosity. It is an honor to lead an organization that provides so much to the community in such an inspiring way.”