Chang­ing the world with a washer and dryer

Walker County Messenger - - Worship Directory - David Car­roll News and Notes

Watch a TV news­cast, and you’ll see the daily pa­rade of ar­rests and mug shots, caus­ing elected of­fi­cials to say, “We’ve got to do some­thing about our crime prob­lem.” It may not seem like it, but many peo­ple are do­ing some­thing. Joe Smith of Chat­tanooga is one of those peo­ple. He isn’t per­fect. He will tell you, he has a check­ered past. A life­time ago, he did some drugs, and got into trou­ble. He con­sid­ered him­self a fail­ure, and planned to com­mit sui­cide. He ran out of gas be­fore he reached his sui­ci­dal desti­na­tion. “I even failed at that,” he said. A friend saw him on the side of the road, and talked him out of giv­ing up.

From that mo­ment on, he has lived a life of ser­vice. He used his ath­letic skills to en­cour­age at-risk youths to put on box­ing gloves, chan­nel­ing their en­ergy into some­thing con­struc­tive. He founded the West Side Box­ing Club, which mor­phed into Chat­tanooga’s YCAP (Youth Com­mu­nity Ac­tion Pro­ject). For more than twenty years, Smith, with his fam­ily and friends, has shep­herded the kids no­body be­lieved in. He can­not boast of a 100% suc­cess rate, but the streets are safer be­cause Smith took time to care.

Early on, Smith saw a press­ing need be­yond the ser­vices he could pro­vide at the gym. He and his wife Paula took one of the trou­bled kids into their own home as a fos­ter child. That was in 1991, and the young man would be the first of nine­teen taken in by the Smiths and their own two chil­dren.

In the mean­time, Smith ex­panded the YCAP pro­gram, far be­yond box­ing. He pro­vided aca­demic as­sis­tance, and he be­gan vis­it­ing schools to check in on “his kids.” (He has since be­come a Hamil­ton County school board mem­ber). YCAP also in­tro­duced a wood­work­ing pro­gram, giv­ing the teens a chance to earn some pride, as well as a few bucks.

Cer­tainly, Smith uses his per­sonal tes­ti­mony in his work each day, but when I asked about his most ef­fec­tive tool, the an­swer sur­prised me. “A washer and dryer,” he replied.

“There was a 12 year-old boy,” he said. We will call him JT. “He came to YCAP ev­ery day, and we no­ticed a prob­lem. The other kids were mak­ing fun of him, call­ing him names, and we don’t al­low that. I de­cided to get to the bot­tom of it. He had bad body odor. It was time to have a se­ri­ous talk with him.”

“I told him, ‘JT, you’re twelve years old. You’re be­com­ing a young man. You have to start tak­ing a bath ev­ery day. You’ve got to use soap, and you’ve got to use de­odor­ant.’ I bought him some, just to be sure.”

Smith said JT seemed to un­der­stand this straight talk, but the prob­lem con­tin­ued.

Smith said, “We were driv­ing him around one day, and we re­al­ized that odor was em­bed­ded in his clothes. There was no amount of bathing that could con­quer that smell.”

Smith’s wife went to the store and got JT some new clothes. But within a few days, it was ev­i­dent that there was a deeper prob­lem.

“It was a cold Fe­bru­ary day,” Smith said, “and I took him home. First thing I no­ticed was a water hose from the house next door, go­ing through his bath­room win­dow. That was his fam­ily’s only water, be­cause their water had been shut off. Yhat ice cold water was all they had to clean any­thing with.”

That’s when Smith had a life-chang­ing idea. “I’ve made a lot of friends over the years,” he said, “and I’ve never been afraid to ask for help. So with their help, I got a washer and dryer for the YCAP build­ing, and it’s the best min­istry tool I’ve ever had.”

What are the heal­ing pow­ers of a washer and dryer? “Here’s what hap­pened,” he said. “We started pro­vid­ing free wash­ing and dry­ing for our fam­i­lies. Mama, or Aun­tie, or Grandma brought their wash, and they were my cap­tive au­di­ence for two hours. It was like a coun­sel­ing ses­sion. I’d ask them why they were do­ing drugs, and tell them their kids were go­ing to grow up do­ing the same thing, be­cause that’s all they knew. For some of them, I was the first per­son who showed any in­ter­est in their fam­ily. They re­ally lis­tened. I think it helped a bunch of them, but if it just helped one, it was well worth it.”

He con­cluded, “I know we saved them some money, but we might have saved some lives too. It all hap­pened be­cause of that washer and dryer.”

Smith has learned the so­lu­tion isn’t about money, or the lat­est trendy pro­grams. It is about build­ing re­la­tion­ships. “Peo­ple want to help,” he said. “but they don’t know how. Just tell them to call me.”

David Car­roll, a Chat­tanooga news an­chor, is the au­thor of the book “Vol­un­teer Bama Dawg,” a col­lec­tion of his best col­umns, avail­able for $23 at Chat­tanoogaRa­ You may con­tact David at 900 White­hall Road, Chat­tanooga, TN 37405 or

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