Tahlequah Daily Press

May 8, 2012

Volunteering gives Smith skills, confidence

Special Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Volunteering has taught Tonya Smith to use power tools and given her confidence.

A Tahlequah Area Habitat for Humanity volunteer for about four years, she’s helping construct the 19th home for the organization and hopes to one day use the skills she’s honing to build her own home.

This week celebrates Habitat for Humanity’s fifth annual national “Women Build” week, which helps empower women to learn skills to be self-sufficient as they complete a home for a family.

When her two daughters were younger, Smith and her husband, Robert, spent their volunteer time aiding Girl Scouts.

“It was fun to do stuff with my kids, fun stuff getting them involved in the community,” she said.

After they grew up, she missed having something to do that made a difference. Seeing the announcement in the newspaper about the Habitat’s tool workshop, Smith knew she wanted to get involved.

“I’ve always done community service through Girl Scouts and I like being able to help others,” Smith said.

Serving on the TAHFH board as secretary, Smith takes minutes and sends financial reports to Habitat International. A future goal is to go overseas and build a Habitat house.

Smith also enjoys coordinating fundraising events like next weekend’s Zumbathon, a first-time event for Tahlequah. In addition to volunteering, Smith is a Zumba instructor.

The Zumbathon will be Saturday, May 12 from 10 a.m. to noon, at the NSU Fitness Center. Registration is onsite with a $5 minimum donation.

“All proceeds go to Habitat for Humanity,” she said. “All you need for the Latin dance exercise event are a bottle of water, a towel and lots of energy.”

Smith volunteers to get out of the house and meet new people. Habitat provides her with activities and new friends.

“It’s rewarding to see the new homeowner have a good place to live that’s not run down,” she said. “They made me feel very welcome and put me to work right away,” Smith said.

Learning skills also appealed to Smith.

“I like learning the new skills for building and using tools, and hopefully, one day I’ll be able to build my own house,” she said. “Power tools are fun, and I get to do stuff without my husband’s help.”

And she has a lot more confidence.

“They trust me to do more without supervision, and I can help new people. It makes me feel good to share knowledge and skills,” she said.

Habitat is always looking for volunteers and always need donations.

“People don’t have to have skills to help,” she said. “They just have to have a good attitude and be willing to work.”

One of her friends who came to visit a build site now serves on the board.

“We just opened up a resale store and we can take donations of household items, except clothing. We have windows, doors, cabinets, that kind of thing,” she said.

While she calls Tahlequah home, the Wagoner Teacher of the Year has taught middle school native culture for 10 years.

“The kids make me want to teach, and there’s never a dull moment,” she said.

Beadwork is her favorite part of native arts and crafts, especially making jewelry, which she likes to give as gifts.

After school, she works with the 21st Century program, which also offers a summer event.She also works with the Johnson O’Malley Indian Education program.

Next year, she’s hoping to start an archery program.

“I’m always looking for ways to incorporate activities in the native culture for our students,” Smith said. “Like bow shooting. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife has free classes for teachers and competition for students.”

As for Habitat for Humanity, it’s now a family project.

Her daughter Marisa, 23, also volunteers with Habitat.

“We’ve always done stuff together. I taught my daughters to give back to the community,” she said. “My dad taught me if you see something that needs to be done just do it.”