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Paint the Town
Paint the Town

Homeowner Profile: Arnice Smith, Crusader for Literacy

Not only is Paint the Town recipient ArniceSmith an accomplished librarian with a career spanningover 30 years, she’s overcome a great deal of adversity and made history by dedicating her career to children’s literacy.

Smith grew up on the west side of Cincinnati in a family of seven. Throughout her childhood, the family was very poor and often had difficulty making ends meet. Smith’s father was a construction worker and did not always have steady work, especially during the colder months. And at times the family encountered discrimination, making it difficult to get any form of assistance. Despite her family’s hard work ethic and determination, they were evicted several times throughout Smith’s childhood, and for a period of time, she and her family were even homeless.

“I’m not ashamed of anything I went through. It made me who I am today. I come from good stock. My family is built on tenacity and perseverance,” said Smith.

Smith was motivated to become a librarian and educate children ultimately because of the difficulty she faced as a child. She didn’t learn to read until she was in fourth grade because of her astigmatism.

Smith’s journey from book shelver to head librarian was not an easy one. She began attending college at the University of Cincinnati, but was forced to drop out after a year and a half because she no longer had the money to attend. She applied and was hired to work part-time at one of Cincinnati Public Library’s branches.  Over the next 10 years, Smith raised two sons all while working at the library and finishing her bachelor’sand master’s degree, taking the bus to school and work, and to drop her kids off at daycare when they were little.

“It was difficult and there were times when I was tired, but two people depended on me and I was determined to never let my children live as I did as a kid,” said Smith.

After earning her master’s and serving as a children’s librarian for several years, Smith is now the branch manager at the College Hill branch of Cincinnati Public Library, a position she has held for the past several years. She’s earned two master’s degrees and has worked tirelessly dedicating her career to children’s literacy. She works several non-profit organizations, volunteering much of her free time tutoring children and teaching them to read. She’s volunteered for several years with the Whiz Kids, a literacy-based, one-to-one tutoring and mentoring program of City Gospel Mission. Smith also started a book club for 8-12 year old girls, and recently helped win a grant through Altrusa for the Pleasant Hill Academy library, so they could upgrade their computer system and purchase new books.

To Smith, literacy is the most valuable part of a child’s education. She is adamant about children not going hungry or becoming homeless. She noted, “You cannot put a price on helping kids to read. I would do anything to help my kids. You have to be literate to be successful.”

Smith’s efforts and passion for instilling the love of reading in children have not gone unnoticed. In 2005, she was named as one of the New York Times’ Librarians of the Year, the first African American Ohioan to receive the honor. And in 2007, she was inducted into the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center as an Everyday Hero.

“Everything happens for a reason for us to get where we are and to where we are and going,” she explained.

Although Smith will soon retire from the library, she has no plans to slow down. She is currently working on a third master’s degree, this time in education, and plans to become an elementary school teacher.

Smith lives with her two sons and her brother, a veteran who is currently looking for work.

She knew that she couldn’t afford any sort of home renovation, but she didn’t think she would qualify for a program like Paint the Town. One Sunday while she was attending church, one of the area leads stopped by and dropped off an application, and she decided to go ahead and apply. When she found out she would be one of this year’s Paint the Town Recipients, she was thrilled.

“I am excited, thankful and humbled by this experience. This is a blessing, they even let me choose the color of paint, and at no cost to me. It makes me feel overwhelmed. I’ve never been given anything. This was just awesome. I am ecstatic, words can’t express it. It’s an awesome opportunity.”

Smith’s home is just one of 40 in the Cheviot community that will be painted during this year’s Paint the Town event on June 9. If you are interested in assisting, please click here to register.