New kid on the ‘neighborhood’ block

STEUBENVILLE – There’s a new kid on the “neighborhood” block, and she’s busy getting settled in to “fill big shoes” while hoping to give back and make a difference in the community.

Twenty-nine-year-old Cynthia Smith of Steubenville has been on the job since January as the director of the Neighborhood Community Development Center at Urban Mission Ministries – a program established locally by Sharon Kirtdoll.

The position was held from the get-go by Kirtdoll, who retired after having served in that capacity for 34 years but continued to remain involved, including as Smith transitioned into the job.

“I am totally grateful to Rev. Ashley Steele (executive director of Urban Mission Ministries) and to Miss Sharon (Kirtdoll) to even think of me (for this job,)” Smith said. “I know I have huge shoes to fill and tons of responsibilities. So many things she has set in place and Rev. Ashley has set in place are just wonderful, wonderful things.”

“A learning process” is how Smith anticipates this first year in the position, she said in response to a question regarding what her goals are.

“We are actually shifting NCDC in a new direction. My main focus is still going to be youth development, community renewal through our youth, but I’m still honoring those programs that are set in place under NCDC – the Healthy U diabetes education program, our Lupus awareness program, things for Minority Health Month – those are staying in place, but we are shifting, taking the youth wellness initiative, and the youth development is my focus, my first priority,” Smith said.

How Minority Health Month will be celebrated is commanding attention at present as the annual observance officially kicks off on a statewide level in Columbus on March 27.

“We have a group from our Lupus program who is going up,” Smith said, explaining that line dancing is part of the local support group’s activities, and several participants involved in it will be doing a demonstration.

“We have a nice sized group going up,” Smith said of the local delegation that will include Virginia Whately, director of the Lupus support group program, and instructors Trina Lawson and Ivy Jo Smith.

Exercise is an important element of living with Lupus, an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks normal, healthy tissue.

Although it kicks off in late March, Minority Health Month in Ohio is observed during April, and that will be the case locally as well, according to Smith.

This year’s theme is “Ohio Cares,” and four activities have been planned by a committee organizing them and involving the input of Smith, Kirtdoll, Angela Suggs, Jacqueline Gibson, Kent Lewis, Carletta Williams, Liz Smith and Whatley.

“April will start the Minority Health Month events here in Steubenville,” Smith said. “All of these events are being sponsored by Urban Mission and the Ohio Commission on Minority Health.”

First up is a new event.

A women’s talk show will be held at 6 p.m. on April 10 at Eastern Gateway Community College. The title is “The 3 A’s We Don’t Talk About: Asthma, Alzheimer’s, AIDS.”

“This is Angela Sugg’s idea. This is her baby,” Smith said of the program. “She is our coordinator for Minority Health Month, and this talk show is designed to be a very interactive, very exciting program.”

Shelby Zarotney will serve as the host of the show that will feature presenters addressing the three topics in addition to a self-defense demonstration by Vicki Littlejohn and information from Daria Crawley on becoming a bone marrow donor.

“It’s designed to be interactive,” Smith said of the program. “We’re going to take live polls, and our audience will have clickers so they can poll right in at the time questions are being asked,” she said.

The first 150 women to arrive will receive gift bags.

The next two events shift to male involvement.

A men’s health breakfast will get under way at 9 a.m. on April 19 at Mount Carmel Community Baptist Church located at 708 N. Fifth St., Steubenville. “Early Detection Saves Lives” will be the theme. The men-only event will feature health stories shared by preachers Michael Harrison, Maurice Lawson and Ernest Ellis with Wilkes Kinney of the Ohio County Health Board as program facilitator.

The second male-oriented event is a free prostate screening to be held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on April 22 at the Tony Teramana Cancer Center, 3204 Johnson Road, Steubenville. Participation is limited to 50 men who must pre-register by April 11.

“We’re really grateful to the center and doctors for getting involved. We’re really excited about that,” Smith said.

The fourth and final event is a senior health expo to be held from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on April 29 at the JFK Building on North Sixth Street, Steubenville. It will involve information, presentations and entertainment. Liz Smith is the program organizer and can be contacted at (740) 282-7746 for details.

The observance of Minority Health Month is needed in the community, according to Smith.

“Often times you see in minorities, it’ll be the lack of information, (why health issues aren’t addressed). Our theme this year is ‘Ohio Cares,’ and we want to let them know that we care, we want to provide them with this information, we have it now, and it means I cannot have an asthma attack because I was aware of what to do. I can know the early signs of Alzheimer’s in my loved one, and I can get them the help they need, and our two events for our men are very important, and this may be true for a lot of older men, but in the African-American community our men do not want to go to the doctor if they do not have to,” she said.

“We want to give the information to save lives,” Smith said, anticipating all the planned activities will generate “a really good turnout.”

Smith, the daughter of Robert Smith of Steubenville and Deborah Bougard of Georgia, was born in Steubenville but grew up in the Youngstown area, having moved there at age 5. She graduated in 2003 from Campbell Memorial High School and earned her bachelor of arts degree in African-American and African studies from Ohio State University in March 2008.

The mother of two children – 4-year-old son Jackson and 2-year-old daughter Nina-Simone – lived in Georgia for three years before making her way back to Steubenville.

She became active at Second Baptist Church in Steubenville where she serves as its youth director.

It was that church involvement that led her to heed the encouragement of fellow church member Cynthia Macon to attend a meeting last summer at Urban Mission Ministries to discover what summer activities and events the church youth could become involved in.

“We went to the meeting, and it turned out to be a planning session for a youth wellness initiative here in Steubenville,” Smith said. It became a brainstorming session that inspired Smith to return to additional planning meetings.

Then came a request from Steele and Kirtdoll: Would she like to be the coordinator of the summer events?

“I was taken back, but I was like ‘yes, absolutely,’ and so I began working at that desk right over there assisting Miss Sharon, and we did the youth wellness kickoff, the Apple A Day program,” Smith said. All told, close to 500 children participated in the various summer activities motivating children to be active and eat healthy.

“The biggest program that came out of that was the ‘Free to Be’ young adult weight loss program. It was for ages 18 to 25, and we had four girls,” Smith said. The six-month program that ended in March included a two-week retreat, ‘kind of like a boot camp,’ and information on better eating habits, how to prepare healthy food and snacks, exercise, and improving physical and mental health.

A grant that made it possible “was an amazing opportunity for us to get that started here in the city and to try to get our kids healthy,” she said.

From unexpected involvement in the summer program came yet another unplanned but welcomed opportunity – to become the NCDC director.

And that excites Smith.

“The NCDC represents and embodies these things for me – empowerment, growth, change, opportunity and missions at its core,” she said.

“NCDC seeks out all of the potential/assets of the community. These assets become the building blocks for community renewal and growth. Essentially our goal is to rebuild our communities from the inside out,” Smith said.

“I am just grateful every single day I walk in here. It’s a wonderful place to work. Every day you walk out of those doors feeling great, that you’ve helped someone in some type of way.”

Smith can be contacted at the mission from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at (740) 282-8010, extension 210.

(Kiaski can be contacted at