Since 1982, Heartland Family Service has celebrated its annual Salute to Families Awards. They honor four southwest Iowa families and four Nebraska families for their efforts to make a difference in the categories of Community Service, Leadership, Challenged and Successful, and Commitment to Family. The families were nominated by the public.
The event for the Iowa families will be held Thursday at the Mid-America Conference Center in Council Bluffs. Nebraska families will be saluted Nov. 21 at the Happy Hollow Club in Omaha, when a Family Week Advocacy Award also will be presented.
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On a recent Wednesday evening, the Crossroads Christian Center in Council Bluffs rang with the shouts and laughter of more than 50 children ranging from toddlers to teens. Some were in the kitchen filling bag with Halloween goodies. Others were in the main room, talking to friends, shadowing Dave and Sheri Smith.
Right in the center of what might seem like chaos to outsiders, were Dave and Sheri. They hugged kids, laughed with them and tried to quiet the over-excited among them.
It was obvious that this couple were well-loved by everyone at the weekly meeting of the Trailblazers.
The Trailblazers of the Heartland Ministry, which was started by the Smiths in 2000 to provide a safe, loving environment for impoverished children, especially the fatherless, is just one of the many things that keep them and their seven children involved in Council Bluffs and the surrounding communities.
The family is the recipient of the Heartland Family Service 2013 Community Service Award for the Iowa Salute to Families.
It has meant some sacrifice on the part of the family. Dave, once vice president of operations for NatComm Inc., retired in 2003 to turn his full attention to being executive director of the growing Trailblazers ministry. Sheri works part time at the Phoenix House shelter for victims of domestic abuse.
But most of their days are spent volunteering. Dave gives MICAH House homeless shelter more than 300 hours a year. The whole family volunteers at senior centers, and Dave and Sheri serve on the boards of other community organizations.
They continue their work with donations, fundraisers, small grants and “good-hearted people,” Dave said.
Trailblazers, which meets every Wednesday and two Saturdays a month for special weekend adventures, offers spiritual guidance and someone to talk to, and provides outdoor activities for the kids. Last Saturday, between 60 and 70 kids went on a hayrack ride.
Dave, 54, estimates Trailblazers has grown to 350 children, although they don't all make every meeting or event. The Smiths provide transportation to all activities with buses. The couple keep in contact with the 175 Trailblazers families with twice-a-week home visits.
A recent activity was raising pumpkins — more than 12,000 this year — on about seven acres in two locations. Trailblazers members picked the pumpkins and delivered them to area schools, so every student could take one home. Many others were given wherever they were needed; one shipment of pumpkins went to Brooklyn, N.Y.
The Smith children, ages 10 to 26, have grown up helping their parents wherever needed and don't resent the time or effort spent doing good deeds. “It brings our family closer together,” Sheri, 46, said. “It teaches them not to be selfish.”
Being engaged and helpful is the only way this family know how to be, Dave said. “We wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.”