Earlier this Fall, Valerie C. Smith, Westhab’s Assistant Vice President for New York City Singles Housing Programs, was honored with a New York Life Foundation Love Takes Action Award. She was nominated for the award by Robert H. Petrocelli, Jr., an agent with New York Life’s Manhattan General Office, and the First Vice Chair of Westhab’s Board of Directors. On December 4th, Ms. Smith, Westhab Chief Operating Officer Jim Coughlin, and Managing Partner of New York Life’s Manhattan General Office Dominick Kortkamp, came together for the presentation of the check. Then, in January 2021, in response to Valerie C. Smith’s incredible work throughout the pandemic, Spectrum News NY1 named Ms. Smith their New Yorker of the Week.
The Love Takes Action Award program awards $50,000 to local nonprofit organizations, which are championed by New York Life agents and employees. Ms. Smith was one of thirty-five individuals from across the nation who was recognized for embodying Love Taking Action in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the New York Life Foundation’s recognition of Ms. Smith, she was able to direct a $50,000 general support grant from New York Life Foundation to Westhab to support its mission of developing high-quality affordable housing and delivering a broad range of services designed to help people and communities thrive.
When COVID-19 hit New York in March, Valerie C. Smith made fast decisions to ensure the health and safety of her staff and clients. At the height of the first wave of the pandemic, she and her team worked tirelessly to transfer hundreds of Westhab clients from homeless shelters into hotels to allow for social distancing. Despite the challenges, they also successfully opened two new shelters in New York City at this time, including a 50-person safe-haven drop-in center in the Bronx. To this day, Ms. Smith and her team remain vigilant, enforcing safety protocols, educating clients about the pandemic, handing out literature on symptoms and prevention measures, and checking in on clients with underlying medical issues. As Ms. Smith said, “Our clients depend on us. We need to make sure that they are fed. We need to make sure that, if they are sick, the protocols are carefully followed. We are committed to making sure that we provide services even during the most challenging of times.”
“The New York Life Foundation Love Takes Action Award is a testament to the outstanding work of Valerie C. Smith and the entire Westhab team during this pandemic,” said Westhab Chief Operating Officer Jim Coughlin. “We are so proud of all of Westhab’s frontline heroes for showing up every day for our clients. When the world seemed to slow down, our team never did—because the people we serve have needed us more than ever. We’re grateful for the New York Life Foundation’s general support grant which will help Westhab continue its work building communities and changing lives.”
“Since the outset of this pandemic, DSS-DHS has moved mountains to prioritize the health and safety of the New Yorkers we serve while ensuring that they continue to receive the supports they need to stabilize their lives,” said Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks. “We could not have achieved these goals without dedicated, essential provider staff, like Westhab’s Valerie C. Smith, whose commitment to this mission is extraordinary. Valerie C.’s invaluable leadership and tireless work on the frontlines—in support of our City’s most vulnerable residents during this most challenging period in our City’s history—exemplify the best of New York in a time of crisis: the resilience, compassion, and dedication. We are tremendously proud of and grateful for the work Westhab and Valerie C. Smith have done and continue to do every day, helping New Yorkers experiencing homelessness get back on their feet.”