40 Under 40 Class of 2008

Ja’Net Smith

Age 30: Clinical Director, Center for Human Development Terri Thomas Girls Program

Ja’Net Smith has built a life and a career on the idea that, with a little perseverance, anyone can make the world better.

When a landslide destroyed the homes of several families halfway around the world in Manila, Smith boarded a plane for the Philippines to help with relief efforts. When a volcano erupted on the island of Montserrat and children were relocated to already-crowded schools in Antigua, Smith was there to provide educational support.

But it’s at home in Western Mass. where she’s found her greatest reward, working with at-risk girls. As clinical director of the Terri Thomas Girls program, which provides treatment to youths referred by the State Department of Youth Services, Smith is responsible for everything from clinician training to group counseling to press relations.

It’s a big job, but one that she says represents the kind of important work that she’s taken on since she was a teenager.

Smith says she lost sight of her dream to pursue social work only briefly; after earning a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Boston College, she took on several jobs, including a stint as an assistant buyer for Filenes.

“But when I was presented with the opportunity to teach in the Terri Thomas program, I started to reconnect with my passion, and decided to take it even further,” she explained, noting that she returned to school to earn her master’s in social work and advanced to the clinical director’s position in 2006. “I love working with the girls. When you see a face and hear a story, you understand what has led them to this place — including neglect, trauma, and chronic disconnect from role models. The biggest goal I have is to change the perceptions these girls have of themselves, and those of others.”

In the future, Smith said she might like to continue that work through her own nonprofit group, focused on the needs of children, teenagers, and families in crisis.

“I’d love to create some sort of agency that could address their needs,” she said. “There are two things that drive me.

The first is my faith, and the second is my family. My husband is a social worker, so he understands. And our son … I want very much for him to be a visionary. I think he can change the world.”

Jaclyn Stevenson

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