Pat Smith likes the occasions when he can talk with young people about how Turning Point Domestic Violence Services helped improve their lives.
Smith, who will step down May 31 after 14 years in the agency’s top position, recalled a teen he met at the annual dance marathon fundraiser for area high school students. The girl had told Smith how she stayed at the shelter when she was 9 years old and wanted to give back to the organization that made such a difference to her family.
Another teen who attended a marathon contacted the shelter staff the next day, asking for help when he recognized signs of abusive behavior in his father and himself.
Reaching out to youth in efforts to end the cycle of domestic violence is just one of the initiatives instituted at Turning Point under Smith’s leadership.
Since Smith came aboard in 1999 as executive director, a title that was later changed to president, Turning Point has seen growth in services and staff.
The Pat Smith file
JOB TITLE: President of Turning Point Domestic Violence Services
YEAR STARTED: 1999
FAMILY: Wife, Cynthia Merris-Smith; daughters, Maureen, 8, and Chiara, 11
EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in business from Western Illinois University
WHAT: Turning Point Domestic Violence Services
AREAS COVERED: Bartholomew, Brown, Johnson, Jackson, Jefferson, Jennings, Shelby and Decatur counties.
SERVICES OFFERED: Emergency shelter, education, prevention services, victim and community outreach, legal advocacy program, sexual assault services and children’s programs
LOCATION: Administrative offices, 1531 13th St., Columbus, in United Way of Bartholomew County’s Doug Otto Center
2013 BUDGET: $1.66 million
CRISIS HELP: 379-9844 or
It has developed a focus on prevention and education and increased community awareness of domestic violence issues, said Dave McKinney, chairman of Turning Point’s board of directors.
Smith, 54, has worked tirelessly to take an agency in disarray and transform it into a professional organization with caring, compassionate employees and volunteers, McKinney added.
“Pat is so passionate about what he does, you can’t help but follow behind him,” McKinney said. “He really cares about the victims of domestic violence.”
The nature of the work at Turning Point can be stressful on its staff, who can be subject to burnout after years on the job, McKinney said. He said the board appreciates Smith’s willingness to stay through May 31 to help with the transition in leadership.
“Fourteen years is a long time to stay in one role,” Smith said from his office in the United Way Center in Columbus. “I don’t want to be the guy who stays too long.
“This is a good time. The board is strong. The staff is strong. The agency is in good financial health. It’s a good moment to make a change.”
Smith said he plans to pursue other career opportunities after leaving Turning Point. He and his family plan to stay in Columbus, and they want to continue to support Turning Point.
“I plan to work for the next 10 to 15 years and to begin networking and looking for local opportunities,” he said.
“I have worked in for-profit, not-for-profit and professional ministry in my career, and I am open to any of those possibilities. I do not have a specific, narrowed focus at this time.”
McKinney said the board has formed a search committee to select Smith’s successor. He declined to share Smith’s salary since the board is developing parameters for the new executive director.
Smith recalled his first week on the job, dealing with a plugged toilet and the resignation of his shelter director.
The agency also had been without an executive director for nine months, and he had just 12 employees, compared to today’s 35, helping provide services in eight counties.
He also watched how domestic violence services changed from a focus on shelter services to community-based services outreach, developing relationships among schools, courts, law enforcement, health care organizations and social service agencies.
“There is so much greater access to services today through outreach programs for the individual going through domestic violence,” Smith said. “And there is more awareness and interest in trying to be part of the solution.”
While a need for a shelter will always exist, Smith said, providing additional services to victims and increasing efforts in education and prevention has been a positive trend.
Public safety partners
Columbus Police Chief Jason Maddix said Smith’s passion for the job includes making sure law enforcement officers have a better understanding of domestic-violence issues.
Turning Point staff conduct training sessions with officers, and a Turning Point employee works at the courthouse as a resource for victims and others.
CPD also has a domestic violence coordinator, Lt. Mike Ward, and Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department’s liaison with Turning Point is Lt. Chris Roberts.
“In 2012, the number of our domestic violence cases were down,” Maddix said.
“It’s going in the right direction, and it’s part of our partnership with Turning Point.”
Maddix praised Smith’s commitment to increasing awareness of the issue and always seeking a level of excellence at Turning Point.
Bartholomew County Prosecutor Bill Nash agreed that Smith’s leadership and dedication was evident to those who met him.
“He has always been such a strong leader of that organization, and he never stopped thinking of new ways to raise awareness,” Nash said.
In the prosecutor’s office, Nash restructured his staff in 2005 so one deputy prosecutor could be the main contact for most of the domestic violence cases.
Sadly, Nash said, the county has had at least five murder cases in the past decade that have been related to domestic violence.
Bartholomew County Sheriff Mark Gorbett said Smith was a persuasive leader who could bring different organizations together for a common goal.
“He will leave a legacy of having a lasting impact on numerous lives in the community,” Gorbett said.
Smith said the relationship with local law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office has been strong, and he praised them for becoming more assertive and aggressive when pursuing domestic violence cases.
Working with youth
Preventing domestic violence from escalating to the point of needing police assistance or court action is one of the reasons Smith believed it was so important to work with youth.
“Let’s work with these kids before they are victimized,” he said. “We want to do prevention work with them and build awareness.”
One of the biggest awareness events for youth each year is the dance marathon, attended by about 700 youth with about 200 adult volunteers assisting.
This year’s 14th annual marathon is Feb. 23 at Central Middle School. During the event, Smith said students stop for 5 to 10 minutes each hour to hear for some type of educational material about domestic violence.
Ian Kohen has served as an adult leader for the marathon the past 11 years and said Smith always provides a strong message to student leaders as they begin the planning process for the major event.
“He’s always been super inspirational to the kids,” Kohen said.
“Although the money raised is important, the message is really paramount. (Smith) makes them understand the depths of what they’re doing.”
Turning Point provides prevention education in the middle and high schools, in addition to social service agencies, businesses and through public service organizations.
As these efforts have expanded, the need for the shelter has not gone away, Smith said.
Last year, 170 families sought emergency shelter in Bartholomew County.
Starting with 14 beds when Smith began at Turning Point, it has 25 beds today.
The shelter also improved its handicap accessibility, and a transitional housing apartment was added for clients.
Smith gives credit to others for the great strides the agency has seen and gives thanks to his board and staff for their hard work and dedication.
“It really is a terrific team,” Smith said. “The depth of the community support has really grown substantially. That’s really the backbone.”