She’s guarded nuclear missiles for the United States Air Force. She’s cleaned up after fires, floods, and tornadoes for a nonprofit run by veterans. And she’s helped develop affordable housing for the city of Boston.
Now Lisa Smith has launched a campaign to become a city councilor in her town of Arvada, Colorado, which lies seven miles northwest of Denver.
“Citizens want to preserve the goodness of this community,” says Smith, who graduated from the Boston College School of Social Work in 2018. “I want people to be comfortable discussing issues with me and working together toward solutions.”
The election will take place in November 2021, with as many as four candidates vying for two spots. Smith says her experiences over the past 13 years have prepared her to win over the voters.
She joined the Air Force at 17, serving in Cheyenne, Wyoming, from 2007 to 2010. Her primary duty was to protect a cache of nuclear missiles from protesters and potential thieves.
“I needed a little more structure and stability in my life,” she recalls. “I wanted to serve my country and be part of something bigger than myself.”
After she left the Air Force, Smith wanted to find a way to help people directly. Her father had a degree in social work, so she chose to get one, too.
As an undergraduate student at Colorado State University, she counseled veterans who needed help making the transition from the military to college. But her desire to help didn’t stop there. After floods destroyed more than 1,800 homes in Colorado in 2013, Smith joined the recovery effort.
One day, she drove to the parking lot of a Home Depot in Colorado and went looking for people wearing gray T-shirts. She knew they belonged to Team Rubicon, a nonprofit run by veterans to help communities recover from natural disasters.
“I saw a bunch of beards and tattoos and said ‘that looks like my crew,’” she recalls. One member of Team Rubicon tossed her a T-shirt and she got to work.
Smith has worked for Team Rubicon for the past seven years. She cleaned up after fires, floods, and tornadoes hit Colorado and South Carolina. She organized a rescue mission to save victims of an earthquake in Nepal. And she provided medical care to Syrian refugees in Greece. When COVID-19 struck, she gave food and masks to people in her home state.
“I have spent my life serving others,” says Smith. “The problem solving, grit, and determination instilled in the military carry over regardless of the service.”
After she enrolled in the master’s program at BC in 2016, she started a group for student veterans. Now she sits on the executive committee of the BC Veterans Alumni Network.
She says she chose BC for its program in macro social work, which prepares students to help communities solve complex problems. “A ton of colleges offer a social work degree,” says Smith. “But only a few offer it through the lens of macro social work.”
For her internship, Smith tackled shortages in housing affordability and availability. She worked for the Housing Innovation Lab in Boston, managing a program that matches older adults with spare rooms and people who need a room to rent.
“Innovation,” she told the lab in 2017, “can positively affect people regardless of their demographic or economic status.”
Smith says her degrees in social work have shaped her political agenda. She wants to help develop more housing in Arvada, improve transportation, and create social programs for residents in need.
“Working with individuals and families in need gave me a level of empathy that I will carry with me as I create policy to help people,” she says.
The political candidate advises young people to look into careers in social work. “You can dive into an area that you care about,” she says. “While the paycheck might not be big, your heart will be filled.”