WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - Allanesha Smith didn't sign up to be a social worker. But working in an inner-city middle school here, she's taken on that role to help the students she works with as a school nurse.
With her Air National Guard background and her spirit to always give 110 percent, the 131st Medical Group aerospace medical technician Senior Airman is well prepared to take on a greater role in these teen's lives.
"Nurse Smith is a valued part of the Northeast Middle School community," said Bryan Shaw Sr., vice principal at Northeast Middle School. "She has a commitment to the success of every student that extends beyond the assigned responsibilities she has. There would be a void in the culture of NEMS if she were not present."
The school has 900 kids. Homeless men and women sometimes use the school steps to rest or sleep. Many students suffer from autism; some have epilepsy or diabetes and one experienced brain cancer. Another student's parents were shot and killed in his living room during a gang-related incident.
Smith has brought a greater sense of pride to the students, said Shaw. To help counter the illnesses and lifestyles that the children deal with, Smith revamped the school's sports program. After the school day ends, she coaches basketball, track and volleyball.
"The kids here have no structure," she said. "With coaching, I have a structure. We make the kids sign a contract. There are rules and consequences. We establish goals for making it to an annual awards banquet." Those goals are athletic, but also academic, according to Smith.
Through sports, Smith has been able to help several students. One such teen was constantly in trouble.
"We butted heads all year," she said. "He had several delinquent friends who dabbled in drug use. He cursed out his teachers and fought around school. He was in a horrible place."
Smith started him in basketball; then he switched to track, where he placed first and second in multiple events.
"He learned how to cope emotionally through running. His attitude did a 180," Smith said. "He thanked me for not giving up on him, but I was just trying to facilitate what he needed to succeed."
Before the sports program and student contracts were put in place, the school experienced a large drop-out rate. The school saw a decrease in that rate after the changes. Administrators say Smith's willingness to go the extra mile is invaluable.
"She is always dedicated to her extracurricular activities," said Shaw. "She takes the responsibility to the next level in assuring that the students are well prepared and knowledgeable of the activity."
Although her sports programs have had a clear impact, Smith extends that same dedication to students outside of sports. She was once contacted by a 13-year-old girl who had not been attending school. When Smith spoke with her, she learned that the young girl had run away from home and was pregnant, after being sexually assaulted by her abusive step-father.
"She called the school and asked to speak with me," Smith said. "I got her into a shelter for pregnant teens who have been thrown out. I bought some toiletries and clothing. The shelter has health care and items in-house to allow the young teens to get the care they need and help them stay educated."
The young girls' willingness to approach Smith reveals a trait that others in the Missouri Air Guard have seen in Smith as well.
"Senior Airman Smith is down-to-earth, knowledgeable, approachable and respected," said Chief Master Sgt. Jessica Settle, 131st Bomb Wing command chief and former MDG superintendent. "She is an exceptional Airman. She is well-respected throughout the wing for her work ethic, professional attitude and personal integrity.
"She is an advocate for the enlisted force as well as improving programs and processes, and she is not afraid to share those ideas with leadership," Settle added.
Smith was recognized by the 131st MDG as Airman of the Year twice in a row – a first in the MDG here.
Smith's wing leadership and school leadership agree that she has improved things no matter where she goes. She has improved the MDG's training program as the unit training manager and helped with the wing-wide student flight program.
She has also improved student retention at Northeast. Smith has helped the school acquire free dental visits for the kids; there is now a dental clinic on site. She also reached out to a local Olympian to help coach volleyball. And, several of the children have benefited from free eyeglasses provided through a grant that Smith helped secure.
Smith's drive and dedication to succeed in both her full-time and Guard jobs comes from a long military upbringing. Smith's dad was in the Army. They moved around a lot, but she always had structure. She wants to instill that same structure and work ethic with those she works with in school and the 131st BW, said Smith.
"I've learned a lot about structure from the Air National Guard," Smith said. "It has taught me checks and balances, actions and consequences. These kids don't have that, so introducing those concepts has motivated them."
In fact, it has impacted the students so much that some of the teens she works with have even told Smith they intend to enlist.
"You live the Air Force core values, and I pride myself on that," said Smith. "The Air National Guard is in both parts of my life. It's not just a weekend for me."