Throughout the Pittsburg State University campus, there are many individuals who volunteer to help students and enrich the lives of those around them. One such volunteer is Don Smith, who has dedicated 40 years of service to helping international students, primarily with a bike-loan program.
For his volunteer efforts, Smith was awarded the International Volunteer of the Year award by Region II NAFSA. NAFSA is the professional organization for international educators. Region II consists of Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.
According to their website, the award is for “those whose efforts were responsible for the creation of permanent community or institutional programs, improved community awareness of international cultures, or some other equally meritorious contribution to international exchange.”
Smith was “grateful” to hear he had been one of two recipients of the award.
“I was grateful for the opportunity to help and the acknowledgement of the (International) office, which they are always thanking me for what I do personally, so I know they’re grateful then that just shows that they wanted that to be known outside of here, so it was very encouraging,” Smith said. “I felt blessed.”
Smith was nominated for the award by PSU’s office of International Programs and Services.
“Don has worked with international students and with the university in his role for many years, so we just felt that he was very deserving, and that award really fit what he has done over the years, his volunteer efforts with helping international students,” said Aaron Hurt, international programs and services director. “His impact is wide reaching, probably more than we’ll ever know. He’s touched a lot of student’s lives over the years with the bike loan program in itself and his generosity with helping students and just being a friend to someone that isn’t familiar with the area- a friend to all actually.”
Smith said he didn’t expect to win award but was excited when he received an email from NAFSA and a message from Angela Moots from the International Office that he had received the award. Smith received the award on a virtual ceremony.
“I didn’t think I’d win, I’m sure there are many people who do things for students and I had no idea how many people would be nominated…,” Smith said.
Smith has a long history of work and volunteering at Pitt State, primarily with campus organization Campus Christians. He began working with international students a few years after being on campus.
“I’ve been here on campus for 42 years with Campus Christians and international work began in 1980…” Smith said. “There was a group of international students that came to Pitt State and we got acquainted with several them at that time. I was American Student Campus Minister at that time and internationals just kind of fell in our lap.”
Smith said he got the idea in 1985 for a bike loan program after hearing about a similar program that the University of Missouri in Columbia had where they ‘lend a friend a bike’ for international students.
“…I thought ‘we can do that,” Smith said. “So, we started there giving out some bikes. There’s a lot of bikes around that nobody’s using and once they knew we were doing this they would volunteer to bring bikes or sometimes we would ask churches in the community or area to see if anyone has a bike that they’re not using, we would like to give them to students.”
Smith said the number of bikes has increased over the years and they now have approximately 200 to 250 bikes to lend out. The bikes are available for students, primarily international but also domestic students, to use. They have to pay a deposit for the bike and lock and upon returning it they will receive the deposit back.
According to Smith, the volunteering effort is a group effort of numerous people and churches.
“So, I work with Campus Christians so we’re a volunteer organization because we don’t work for the university and we don’t work for the state and actually, there are multiple people who support the ministry so we’re the volunteers on their behalf to help here,” Smith said. “… It’s like maybe 50-80 people and about 20 churches supporting our work so that we can be here for students. So, it’s a group effort, it’s not just me.”
According to Hurt, Smith’s impact on students is long lasting.
“…When we talk to alumni over the years that they’ve been gone for a long time, the first thing they ask is about Don Smith,” Hurt said. “That’s the first person they’ll ask about, about Don and Fran, so just by that statement you know he’s made an impact on a lot of people’s lives.”
Smith said his goal through volunteering is “honor God by helping people.”
“God loves people and He wants people to help people,” Smith said. “And in the Bible, it says that we’re to welcome strangers or foreigners, in this case international students, and care for them.”