Maintaining the grounds and facilities for only four years, Russell Smith brings a lifetime of work and care to Gemeinschaft Home.
A native of the Shenandoah Valley, 74-year-old Russell Smith has spent his entire life around the local area, raising a daughter and working in various (though related) industries.
When he joined the Gemeinschaft Home staff in 2018, he had been in retirement for a couple of years already and had found himself to be increasingly bored. Without the day-to-day bustle and activity of the workplace, Smith says he often struggled finding ways to occupy his time, joking,“If you don’t have a hobby, don’t retire.”
Smith did not initially seek out employment with Gemeinschaft Home, but after he learned about the need for a maintenance person (the previous person had vacated the position earlier in the year), he offered to lend a hand with some urgent projects around the men’s home, which eventually led to a permanent part-time position.
Today, Russell spends up to four days each week, usually during the morning hours, taking care of various tasks that range from lightbulb changes to more complex household repairs and equipment management.
Maintaining a facility that accommodates up to 50 residents and staff office spaces requires continual attention, and Smith works diligently to address needed repairs himself or to coordinate the relevant professionals—from electricians and plumbers to HVAC specialists and building contractors.
And, the scope of Smith’s work also widened last year, when Gemeinschaft Home opened the women’s residential facility on Old South High Street, as there are now two properties to maintain. Fortunately, he can lean on a wealth of work experience and a network of local colleagues, to inform his daily activities.
While just 16 years old, in the 1960s, Smith started honing his mechanical skills by working on cars at Wheatley Yetzer Ford and after as a truck mechanic for almost a decade with Harrisonburg Food & Produce. He later worked in several hardware businesses, which eventually landed him a job in sales with Dillon Industrial Supplies, where he remained for the next 29 years until his retirement. Smith explained that one fulfilling highlight of such work was helping farms and local manufacturing or poultry processing facilities to find the right parts at an affordable price for an infinite number of machinery and equipment types.
His knowledge base is wide, and his ability to troubleshoot a given repair problem is crucial for Gemeinschaft Home to run as efficiently as possible. Yet, in addition to his broad competence for most anything mechanical, it is Smith’s big heart for the mission and community of Gemeinschaft Home that is noteworthy and provides the basis for his continued involvement.
On any given day, Smith can be found interacting with residents, in many cases, teaching them how to complete various repairs or helping them out with frequent activities such as putting dozens of lunch bags together for each mid-day meal or assisting them in other chores around the house. He is also quick to help staff members, particularly the food services manager, and often spends a lot of time on the road running various errands on behalf of the organization.
“My job would be a lot more difficult, without Russell’s continuous help and support,” says Theresa Jarrett, who is in charge of the kitchen and food preparation. He often gets questions from friends and family members about his post-retirement employment at Gemeinschaft Home, an organization whose mission is unlike any context in which Smith has previously worked, but he has a sense of calling to be there.
He readily embraces the opportunity to interact with individuals who are struggling to find their way, who face obstacles such as drug addiction and mental health issues, and who are trying to repair vital relationships with family and loved ones. So, while he is focused on the repair and maintenance of the physical facilities, he is equally committed to the emotional well-being of the program participants as well.
Smith likes to joke that part of his job is “to come in and aggravate the residents,” which is his way of saying he enjoys engaging them in discussion: “The residents just need someone to talk to sometimes.” It’s not a requirement of the job to have any interaction with the Gemeinschaft Home program participants, but Smith argues it is an important reason for his continued commitment to Gemeinschaft Home, and everyone in our community is better for it.