By Ryan Velez
We often hear about the “curse” of the lottery, where those who manage to win end up losing the money they make to poor decisions or unscrupulous people who take advantage of them. One New Jersey family is not only trying to avoid the dark side of this windfall but is looking to help others with a philanthropic, civic-minded foundation, reports NJ.com.
Sure, the Smith family of Trenton, consisting of matriarch Pearlie Mae Smith and her seven adult children, treated themselves, but they knew from the beginning that giving back was a goal of theirs. By choosing the cash option, the Smiths received about $284 million, split eight ways. Each gave a portion to help start the Smith Family Foundation, a grantmaking fund designed to help them support others and the Trenton community for years to come.
Why use their earnings in this way? Valerie Arthur, one of the Smith children, says that it is their faith that guides much of their decisions, the same way that “divine intervention” led them to pick the right numbers to win. “I could have gotten a yacht and never come back, but we just have a heart and mind to do this work,” said Valerie Arthur, one of Smith’s daughters. “It’s a blessing to have the ability to do whatever you want to do in this life and yet you choose to come and help somebody else — that right there is divine intervention.” She also adds that giving back is nothing new to them as a family. Instilled as a principle at a young age, the family started a garden at a backyard for the community as well as volunteered at the local soup kitchen.
With the ability to now give back on a large scale, Harold Smith, Arthur’s nephew and the foundation’s program manager, explains that the program is not about giving money to anyone who comes in asking. Instead, they plan to invest in organizations and programs that will bring about long-term change in categories that they are passionate about. These include education, neighborhood development, and families and youth.
“We want to fund programs that directly affect systems of poverty so we can help change the systems or change the dynamics that are causing people to be in poverty,” he said. “Rather than just helping them find food or give away food, we can make it so they now have the ability to obtain employment, get their proper education in order to be able to go out and get their own food.”
Helping get things started will be executive director Katherine Nunnally, another of Smith’s daughters. For 15 years, she has led a program to mentor young women in Newark and is training her siblings, nieces, and nephews to run the organization.