Erin Smith of Weston, Florida Talks about Project We Care and the Importance of Charitable Giving
Erin Smith is an active member of the Weston, Florida community, regularly donating to the Broward County School system and assisting with extracurricular activities. She enlisted her husband Thomas and his company, All Year Cooling, to assist in raising funds for Cancer.org. Erin Smith, of Weston, Florida, is a generous donor. Project We Care, a family-based non-profit organization, works with the Veterans Administration Subsidized Housing program to supply veterans with food, clothing, and household essentials. Erin grew up in Santa Monica, California, before moving to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The South Plantation High School graduate now resides in Weston, Florida with her husband of nearly two decades, Thomas “Tommy” Smith, and their four children.
One of the most important things for Erin is that she has been able to instill in her children a passion for helping others. Through helping the Weston, Florida community in a number of ways, Erin Smith has shown by her example that helping others is a truly meaningful endeavor. Erin is perhaps most proud of the efforts her daughter Riley has made in taking up the mantle of philanthropy as co-founder of Project We Care.
Project We Care was co-founded by mother/daughter team Erin Smith and Riley Smith at their home in Weston, Florida. After an influx of donations from the community during a holiday drive earlier that year, they decided that they could do more to help the less fortunate. Riley gathered friends and family at her house to sort through clothes for donation; soon after Erin began receiving calls from veterans’ organizations thanking her for the donations of furniture and household items. This is when Project We Care was born—in order to make it easier for donors to give directly to their cause, rather than having Erin coordinate individual deliveries one by one.
What was the inspiration for Project We Care?
I had been involved in philanthropy for many years, and my daughter Riley had recently started to get involved as well. We were doing a holiday drive and we had an influx of donations, and we thought that we could do more to help the less fortunate. So we gathered some friends and family and sorted through clothes for donation, and soon after I started receiving calls from veterans’ organizations thanking me for the donations of furniture and household items. That’s when Project We Care was born—in order to make it easier for donors to give directly to our cause, rather than having me coordinate individual deliveries one by one.
How did you come up with the name?
We feel it is important to work together as a team and pursue philanthropic goals as a family. It has always been Riley and I: we like to run races together, we like to volunteer together, we like to give back together. I think this shows the model we set for our children and it is a real opportunity to show them what giving back looks like.
What is the mission of Project We Care?
Our mission is twofold: first, to provide furniture and household items to veterans in need, and second, to raise awareness of the unique challenges that veterans face when transitioning back to civilian life.
What types of items do you collect?
Initially, Riley was gathering clothes from friends and family to be donated. However, when she called me about how much stuff we had I realized that we could help out in a more efficient way by arranging donations directly to veterans’ organizations who could distribute the goods more evenly. We found that there were many local – and not so local – organizations in need of furniture and household items: military families in transition and homeless veterans needing beds or other necessities. Since then we have been expanding our outreach efforts to include both food pantries as well schools in the Weston, Florida area in particular.
How has Project We Care grown since its inception?
We have definitely seen a lot of growth since we started! We’ve been able to partner with some great organizations, like the Veterans Administration Subsidized Housing program, which has helped us reach more veterans in need. And we’ve also been able to expand our services beyond just providing furniture and household items—we now also provide food, clothing, and other essential items to veterans as well.
What are the most pressing needs you tend to see?
The list of veteran organizations that we regularly work with is quite long. We have a particular affinity for veterans who need household goods or other items, since there are so many individuals and families in transition through no fault of their own. This could be anyone from a military family relocated to Florida after spending several years abroad due to base changes, leaving them with little to no furniture, household goods, etc., or it could be someone transitioning out of homelessness into an independent living situation where they are just starting again from nothing. Sometimes, they just need help with getting food on a regular basis or are in need of new clothing.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced with Project We Care?
I think one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced is just getting the word out there about what we do and who we help. There are a lot of people who don’t even know that organizations like ours exist, so raising awareness is a big part of what we do.
Is there anything that you would like to see more of in the community (a specific good, service)?
We are always looking for new volunteers and donors! Volunteering is a great way for people to get involved in their community. There are many ways to get involved, whether it’s sorting through donations or dropping off items at one of our donation locations; or helping us promote our organization by sharing news articles online on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc., sharing our website with friends and family , or even volunteering at one of our donation stations. See Project We Care’s website for more information about volunteer opportunities.
What are some of the highlights of Project We Care?
There are so many! I think one of the most recent highlights was when we partnered with the Veterans Administration Subsidized Housing program. They provide housing vouchers to low-income veterans, and Project We Care provides furniture and household items to veterans who are moving into those homes. It’s a great partnership because it helps us reach more veterans in need, and it also helps the VA get their homes furnished so that they can be ready for occupancy.
What is the long term vision for Project We Care?
Our goal with this organization is to be able to help as many people as possible. Whether it’s helping us expand our volunteer base and outreach efforts, or inspiring others to donate items that we can then distribute throughout local organizations and veteran families, we want to continue expanding. I’ve always said: you don’t know what someone else is going through until you walk a mile in their shoes; and taking even small steps towards helping those in need gives us all an opportunity to take a little of their burden off them so they have more energy for themselves.
How can someone help?
There are two ways to participate in Project We Care. The first way is by donating money or goods – whether it’s food, clothing, furniture or household items. The second way is to volunteer at one of our donation stations. Volunteers are needed year round! It doesn’t have to be anything overly time consuming; you could simply sort donated clothing into categories that we then distribute throughout local organizations for free or even prepare grocery bags that will go directly to a veteran. If people are feeling particularly entrepreneurial they could even consider organizing a fundraiser of some kind where they ask friends and family for donations for Project We Care!