Looking ahead at Love INC
Ryan Smith of Woodburn wears a plastic band with 22 stars on it around his wrist as a reminder of something he is passionate about – mental health and suicides.
According to the Military Veteran Project, 22 veterans lose their battle to post traumatic stress on American soil – one veteran every 65 minutes.
MVP's "Military Suicide Awareness" webpage imparts: "The Veteran Administration statistics confirm 22 Veterans a day are succumbing to suicide on American soil. The total number of those losing their battle grows larger with each day research and treatments are not able to be done."
Smith, who in June was named as the new executive director of Woodburn nonprofit Love INC, served as a pastor in the Navy between 2018-21. He said he is only too aware of this issue, as well as mental health issues with actively serving military.
"As a pastor in the Navy, I did more memorial services than I did in 10 years of pastoral ministry prior to that, and most of those were suicides," Smith said.
As a pivotal social-service guidance entity, Love INC directs people with needs to agencies and advocates that provide the services and resources that meet those needs. Often times needs that can go unmet are mental health ones. That will not be the case going forward if Smith has anything to say about it.
Smith said recent issues and adjustments due to the COVID-19 pandemic only served to exacerbate mental health problems, in large part due to more and more isolation.
"It really exposed us as a nation our ability to handle mental health care; we need much better mental health care in our country," he asserted. "(Suicides) did go up. Last summer I did four memorials, and they were all suicides."
Smith was discharged from the Navy in April, and he took the reins at Love INC in early June. He welcomes the challenges at hand because they coincide with his passion for serving the community. A Sandy native, Smith and his wife, Jennifer, have two daughters ages 9 and 4, and the family has called Woodburn home since 2014.
Smith sees the overarching objective with Love INC as building its infrastructure. He said client needs and the overall organization grew quickly and considerably "overnight," and now the nonprofit's infrastructure needs fortification to meet that growth. Not surprisingly, he uses naval analogy to illustrate the task.
"We need to get the ships pointed in the right directions, firing up the engines and going full speed ahead," he said.
One piece of the undertaking will involve applying more efficient systems in place. Smith said some of the systems Love INC has been using are dated back to the 1980s. He said better, more efficient systems will not only serve the clients more smoothly, but they will make it more comfortable for the nonprofit's team of volunteers – both equally important.
"In the Navy I learned that if you take care of the troops they are going to want to do a good job for you," he said.
Love INC recently moved into the newly formed Family Resource Center, which is designed to house multiple nonprofits. Two, Center for Hope and Safety, and Safety Compass, have set up at the location, and Smith envisions many more.
Since much of the charge of Love INC is directing people to the most helpful resources, the closer the proximity of those resources the more easily that task can be handled.
"Working with partners on collaborative care is very important," Smith said, adding that other objectives include filling out the volunteer staffing and getting the nonprofit's IT capability into the 21st century.
He's happy to be in a position to do all of that and in the knowledge that having done that will help Love INC help others.
"For those of us who are doing public service, that's what we are meant to do – it's our calling," Smith said.
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