standout pro in Winston-Salem
The Winston-Salem Journal
didn't set out to be famous.
The paralegal from Winston-Salem was just a face in the crowd five
years ago, enjoying life in his hometown after spending four years
at nearby Elon College (now University). But that was before the
weekly magazine column and television spot, the daily radio time
and the biweekly appearances on the Winston-Salem Journal's web
Smith is the author of Smitty's Community Notes, a biweekly e-mail
newsletter that reaches more than 7,000 people in the Winston-Salem
area. His writings about community events and his role as an unofficial
ambassador for young professionals have brought him attention from
the media and the public, much to his surprise.
"This all started as an accident," Smith said. "It
was friends e-mailing each other because they needed to find things
to do over the weekend. We reached a consensus that someone needed
to point out to folks what's happening."
What started as an informal e-mail group of about 10 people soon
evolved into a mailing list that served 5,000 people directly. Those
5,000 people in turn forwarded the newsletter to 2,000 more people.
In addition, Smith's web site, www.smittysnotes.com, receives an
average of 10,000 page impressions per month.
"I am pleasantly surprised. I didn't expect it to turn out
like this," Smith said. "I'm riding the wave of opportunity."
Smith's opportunities have come in droves, with a variety of weekly
media appearances to his credit. However, his main concern continues
to be the welfare of the Winston-Salem community and its young people.
Winston-Salem has always had a lot to offer young professionals
in their 20s and 30s, Smith explains, but people were missing out
because they didn't know about many of the opportunities.
"Before I started my notes, people were getting information
in a lot of different ways, if they were getting it at all,"
Smith said. "I packaged everything together so it would be
Smith calls his newsletter "push-out technology" because
it sends more information to more people than most services. "There
is always room for growth," Smith said. "It takes the
general public to seek out opportunities and make them happen. We
have to support what is already in place."
Some of the opportunities, Smith says, are with volunteer organizations
such as the Piedmont Opera and the Arts Council and downtown development
projects such as Alive After Five and Fourth Street Jazz.
With his newsletter's popularity on the rise, Smith devised another
way to reach out to Winston-Salem residents. Called "Evening
with Eight - Plus Smitty!," the event gathers eight to 16 people
together for evenings of dinner, talking and guest speakers.
"I love connecting people who otherwise wouldn't be connected,"
Smith said. "This is a way to get people together with other
people just like them, and show them that they aren't the only ones
Smith borrowed his idea from similar associations called dinner
introduction clubs, which are popular in cities such as Washington,
D.C., Denver and Charlotte. He put his own twist on the clubs by
introducing a guest speaker, who can be anyone of social, economic
or political prominence in Winston-Salem. The speakers and dinner
guests share ideas and information about Winston-Salem and how the
city can reach out to young people more effectively.
Elizabeth Haynie had lived in Winston-Salem for a year when she
signed up for Evening with Eight. She wanted to meet new people
and have an outlet outside of work, she says.
"Evening with Eight was a worthwhile experience," Haynie
said. "The uniqueness of eight strangers getting together to
have dinner and share stories is unparallel to any other social
event in this area. Jeff saw a need for social interaction within
the city of Winston and he did something about it."
The group meets every other week for three months, and two groups
meet each year. Although they are nervous and quiet at first, Smith
says, the group members are relaxed and confident by the end of
the first dinner. "Sometimes I have to pry them away,"
Smith said with a laugh. "I say, ‘Guys, we all have to work
tomorrow! It's time to go home.'"
Smith says new friendships and business contacts are two important
outcomes of the dinner meetings. Two people who met at his first
dinner are now engaged to be married.
"Every individual is so vastly different that when you bring
all of those differences to one table for one evening, something
enjoyable is bound to happen," Haynie said. "I think Evening
with Eight is a stroke of genius, as it is a concept to aid in getting
people out and meeting other people."
Newcomers and 20-year residents socialize in the dinner groups,
resulting in an eclectic array of viewpoints and ideas on city improvement.
Anyone who lives in the city can enroll by visiting Smith's Web
Smith has drawn the attention of several Winston-Salem officials,
including former Mayor Jack Cavanagh, who appointed Smith to a task
force committed to improving the lives of young people in Winston-Salem.
The outcome of the task force has been beneficial, Smith says.
"I think things are better now," Smith said. "We're
starting to see people stick around because there are more opportunities
Two major concerns of many young people in Winston-Salem are job
availability and advancement, Smith says. The mayor and other business
leaders are working on the job situation, he adds, especially with
the development of the biotechnical industry.
"A lot of people I talk to want to stay but they don't have
many choices for career growth," Smith said. "In the past
six months to a year, optimistic things have been happening. What
we were talking about two years ago is happening now. That encourages