Faith in Action’s Retiring Doug Smith’s Legacy of Empowering the Underserved


By Doug Marrin, STN Reporter

“Thank you so much for everything, Doug. So many times, I don't know what I'd have done without the help of Faith in Action, and you all are such a positive inspiration in the community, an enormous help/ stepping stone/ extended hand making such a great difference in so many families' lives. I am beyond grateful for all your help over the years... even when I was just a little girl in elementary school and you helped our family through helping my mom with groceries, Christmas every year, a car when hers broke down, back to school, thanksgiving food, everything- way back then! You've left a big impression on my heart and I can't wait til the day I'm able to pay it forward. Good luck with retirement and the great things you do next!!!”

Notes of appreciation, like the one above, have been filling Faith in Action’s long-standing social worker Doug Smith’s inbox since he announced his retirement effective at the end of September, and it's bittersweet for those who know him—happy for Smith, but sad to see him go.

"Over Doug's 17 years, he has made a positive impact on countless lives,” says Faith in Action Director Sheri Montoye. “He has been a fearless advocate for the community and built lasting community relationships. We are forever grateful for his contributions to the growth of FIA."

It has been quite the journey for Smith. He began his social work career in his twenties working with young people on the streets of Detroit. He has rallied neighborhoods to improve their quality of life. He has worked with youth suffering the effects of severe abuse, neglect, and other traumas. It’s a tough but rewarding career.

“It is really rewarding to help someone who is in a bad way and have the resources to do that,” says Smith. “Faith in Action has those resources, which have expanded over the years to help people's different needs.”

The experience he brought to FIA hasn’t come easy. In the 1980s, while pursuing a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Michigan, Smith was given an internship in Detroit to work on community housing.

“I enjoyed going after slumlords,” he says. “These slumlords in the early 80s would milk everything they could get out of the building, never repairing anything. Some tenants didn’t have water or electricity. Living conditions were squalor. Rent was paid from assistance programs directly to the landlord. An unscrupulous landlord didn’t have any incentive to be a good landlord because they got paid anyway. I enjoyed organizing the tenants to fight back.”

“My motto at the time was ‘The tenant is always right even if they’re wrong,’” he says. “They had been shut out and shut down for so long.”

That’s the attitude he brought to FIA—to put the client first and be a voice for those who had no voice. He came to Faith in Action in 2005 under another fierce advocate, former Director Nancy Paul.

“The organization has come far since I was hired,” says Smith. “Nancy Paul was definitely the reason it has grown as it has. She included more services. The budget got bigger. We were able to do a lot more for the many different needs people had.”

Under the auspices of Paul, FIA grew its central services to include emergency lodging, counseling, financial help with utilities, a free health clinic, a clothing room and food pantry, transportation, holiday and back-to-school support, and most recently, affordable housing.

But for a long time, affordable housing had been a white whale for Paul and Smith, always alluding the two until Smith struck up a conversation with Ann Arbor-based Avalon Housing. Doug’s conversations with the Director were the tipping point that eventually led to Avalon’s purchase of the Sharon Ann Apartments in Chelsea, and a new partnership was formed. Avalon provides the home. FIA provides supportive services. The model has since been repeated in Dexter with the Hilltop View Apartments.

“Bringing affordable housing to Chelsea and Dexter is Nancy and my greatest achievement,” says Smith.

“Doug can meet any person, listen non-judgmentally, and give them the respect all people deserve,” says Paul. “Unfortunately, many had not been treated with such dignity, and Doug brought calm and relief to so many in his role as our main social worker. He would go to great lengths to create opportunities for growth and self-reliance. He was a gift to our staff and the communities we served. And he is a good, good friend.”

Of course, there are stories, so many stories, stories that can’t be shared out of privacy protocol. Nonetheless, Smith has worked with people in seemingly impossible conditions, situations of poverty, abuse, human trafficking, substance abuse, crime, and the despair that comes with hopeless situations.

“People often overlook social workers as heroes,” says Sarah Shugart, Assistant Director of FIA. “However, working with Doug for the last ten years, I witnessed his positive impact on many people's lives. He dedicated his career to serving and helping others, always coming from a place of compassion. I will miss his positive impact and wish him all the best in his retirement.”

For retirement, Doug plans on moving to California in a couple of years, where he has already bought a home. Once retired, Smith will devote himself to another passion of his—writing. He has already published several books, including “Social Work and Other Myths.”

Congratulations Doug and thank for all your years working to help the underserved in the Chelsea and Dexter school districts.

For more information on Doug and his books, visit

I'm interested
I disagree with this
This is unverified