Each year, the Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce awards seven individuals in Whatcom County who have shown and continue to show incredible initiative and stewardship in their communities. Finalist Abby Smith is the director of programs at Skookum Kids and the owner of a mental healthcare private practice for youth.
“I was born and raised in Bellingham, and was on the team that envisioned and built Skookum in the very beginning,” says Smith. “I was our first payroll employee back in 2015, so that’s my main gig — building and creating programs.” While helping develop Skookum Kids, Smith went back to school and received a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology.
“I originally got involved in Skookum because a board member asked if I could help her clean out the basement,” Smith says. “That led to different tasks that eventually ended up with me getting the opportunity to run this program after showing I had experience and knowledge with child development. I never decided this would be the career or the life I would have; I think I just truly started helping where I was asked and where I felt confident I could make a difference.”
Smith’s work snowballed into creating “The Landing” at Skookum, a reference to ensuring children have a “soft landing” when they’re first placed in one of Skookum’s emergency shelter houses. “After the Landing, we kept building the organization up to where it needed to be with foster care, mental health advocacy, and therapy,” says Smith. “It was never a conscious decision, I just truly started saying yes when help was needed and found my talents and my passion through the experience.”
Skookum Kids has done incredible work in the community, giving a voice to youth and quality care for children who need it most. “I’m really proud of the work Skookum Kids has accomplished and the impact they have on the community,” Smith says. “At the same time, our staff feel really supported and enjoy the work they do, feeling like they can be whole people and themselves while accomplishing these huge, heavy tasks. Getting to do heavy work — but doing it joyfully — is a culture I’m really proud of.”
Earning her master’s degree was a challenging turning point for Smith, bringing her goals and core values even more into focus. “Going back to school in the midst of doing a lot of heavy work with foster kids was the biggest challenge,” says Smith. “It really tested me and helped me find out who I am and why I value the things I value. Being on the other side of that and getting to provide affordable, accessible, and quality mental healthcare to kids and teenagers who really need it in the middle of pretty big mental health crisis is something I’m really proud of.”
As a finalist for the Top 7 Under 40, Smith is most grateful for her staff, crediting their support as the vehicle for her success. “It’s such an honor. It’s really easy to be creative and innovative or do your job well when you’re walking on pavement,” Smith says. “The staff and the board behind me at Skookum have laid pavement for me and it has been amazing. It’s an honor and a privilege to have the amount of support and people instilling confidence in me, but I certainly did not do any of this on my own.”
One of Smith’s passions and the intention of her work is to foster restoration. “I think it’s really easy to build brand new things, or replace them, but what I really think is important is restoration,” says Smith. “That’s my passion and what I seek to do in my work. I want to restore families, relationships, safety, and attachment for these families who have been ripped apart due to addiction, mental illness, poverty, abuse, or neglect. It’s the same in my therapy practice; I’m really passionate about restoring people’s sense of self and their confidence, intuition, and their ability to be in healthy relationships. I’ll fit into that process wherever help is needed, just like how I got here in the beginning.”
An excerpt from Abby’s nomination form: “In addition to her expert leadership of the award-winning programs at Skookum Kids, Abby also leads children to healing as a therapist in private practice. And this year she led the launch of Camp Skookum, a two-day retreat to celebrate and build community around reunified families.”
Watch as the Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce reveals the winner of the Top 7 Under 40 Whatcom Young Professional 2022 Award! Celebrate with them and the final Top 7. Enjoy food, music, beer, wine, and networking while supporting the best and the brightest young professionals in our community. More information available here.