UNITED WAY CHAMPION AND ADVOCATE
Ask Julie Smith about community and you’ll see her passion come to life. A self described advocate and Brand Champion of United Way, Julie believes that it’s her personal responsibility to give back; to leave the community a better place for future generations. In fact, Julie believes it’s everyone’s responsibility.
Born and raised in Waynesville, Julie’s work ethic of “Do it right, or don’t do it at all,” has been a driving force in her life and has helped her to affect positive change in our community. “I’m all in,” she responds when asked to describe her personal philosophy. And all in she has been. Upon returning home from Greensboro, Julie began a successful real-estate career — the last 18 years of which have been at Beverly Hanks — married her husband, Kevin and had children (3 girls, ages 15, 6 and 3). She also started becoming more involved in the community.
CATALYST FOR CHANGE
In the early 2000s, Julie was part of a core group of young professionals who started the Junior Chamber of Commerce in Asheville. In 2004, this same group went on to found United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County’s Affinity Group, Highlands Circle. “I was giving to several causes and was surprised to see how many young professionals weren’t.” The realization played a key role in forming Highlands Circle which connects people in their 20s and 30s with opportunities to enhance leadership skills, expand professional networking circles and dive deeper with meaningful volunteer experiences. “I also really liked the idea that all monies raised through Highlands Circle went to meet local needs.”
Julie’s experience with Highlands Circle opened her eyes to many things that were happening in the community that she previously hadn’t known about. “I didn’t know about Pisgah Legal, or MANNA Food Bank. I didn’t know because we had access to food and didn’t need free legal advice. It wasn’t until I started working with United Way that I began to see these huge needs in our community and how people were working to meet them. Until you take your blinders off, you really don’t know what’s happening.”
COMING FULL CIRCLE
And then something happened that fundamentally changed the way Julie saw our community and the many connections that make it up. “I was doing great, I had 24 rentals and then the bottom fell out.” Like many Americans, Julie lost everything in the Great Recession of 2008. It was through this personal experience that Julie began to understand what it’s like to struggle daily to meet your most basic needs. “I ended up using many of the services I had heard about through United Way.”
Having weathered the storm, Julie now says the experience has given her a profound sense of community and helped show her how closely we are all tied together. “It made me realize that we’re all in this together, it doesn’t matter what end of the sphere you’re on, it’s all the same circle.”
When asked what community means to her, Julie replies, “First it’s my personal community, I always call it my village and I always say it takes a village — in my own life a village to raise my kids, a village for my work. Even being campaign chair this year, it’s not just me, it’s a village, we’re all in this together. So, community on a very intimate level is your village, it’s your closest friends, your family, and then that — everyone of those small intimate villages — is part of and makes up the overall community. We’re all woven together, we’re all six degrees of separation.”
Julie is one of those unique people we sometimes encounter that have the incredible knack of seeing things from several perspectives. It makes her a powerful advocate for the work we’re all aiming to achieve. But even more important, it makes her a wonderful person. Julie has been tapped to chair the 2018 Campaign Committee. We’re looking forward to seeing the amazing things this group accomplishes. Thanks for all you do, Julie!
Connection — to resources, experiences, people and opportunities — is central to United Way’s work. And as we become more involved in the work, the closer we come to the realization that we are all connected and that the idea that everyone is just six steps away from each other, becomes a reality. And from this, community is born!