The City Champion award, part of the Urban Leadership Awards program, honours people whose strong community vision and leadership makes significant and lasting impacts.
Smith fits that bill perfectly, said Thomas Hofmann, chair of WoodGreen’s board of directors.
“Brian’s really dedicated his life to building the city, and creating opportunities for its people,” said Hofmann. “He’s what I call a true social entrepreneur.”
During Smith’s 35-year leadership, WoodGreen has grown tremendously, while adapting to its community’s needs.
“The proof is in the pudding,” said Hofmann. “(WoodGreen) started off as being a single community centre, or house, and it’s really grown into an organization that spans the eastern part of the city, with 32 locations. We’ve got over 650 staff, we’ve got 1,000 volunteers and we serve 37,000 clients a year. ... We added childcare, more services for seniors, many new programs for newcomers to the city, housing and mental health.”
It’s a labour of love, said Smith, who was surprised to hear he won, unaware he was nominated.
“Just to be nominated is quite a privilege, and so to be selected is quite amazing,” he said. “You don’t think of that when you’re working day in, day out. I guess it’s one of the things, if you enjoy what you’re doing, then it’s not so much a job, it becomes a passion. ... It’s very rewarding work to be able to work in the community, and build those supports that will continue to strengthen the community.”
His community is what inspires him, he added.
“My real satisfaction comes from being able to work in east Toronto,” he said.
“When I came to work in this community, it was really because I had such a great personal experience growing up in the community, and wanted to continue to help the community build supports for the many individuals who live in the east end.”
Smith brings a positive attitude to everything he does, said Hofmann, developing and implementing innovative and integrated solutions to solve some of Toronto’s most complex issues. His ability to think outside the box and engage others to support vulnerable residents, is unrivaled, Hofmann added.
“I think it’s very rare that you have somebody who’s been a leader for that period of time, for 35 years, and still brings so much energy, and constantly new ideas, to the table, I mean that I’ve never seen before frankly. It’s very, very unique,” he said.
“I’m obviously very happy for him. I’m very proud of Brian’s work. I’m also very proud of the organization that he’s built, because during that time he’s also been able to build a very, very strong team of people. You can’t accomplish all that WoodGreen has accomplished without being a very strong leader, and leading with a lot of integrity.”
Seeing his community thrive, and working with a team of great volunteers and staff, is an award in itself, said Smith, who will officially be honoured June 17 in Ottawa, along with six other individuals and organizations.
“To be put in that group is, I think, fantastic as well, because all the award winners have made significant contributions to the community, and to be recognized along with them, that’s pretty special,” he said. “I’m very pleased, and a bit overwhelmed. ... You enjoy the things you’re doing and the work you do, you don’t really think about awards or recognition.”