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Above: Gathered around a symbolic check representing the $750,000 College
grant are, from left, John M. Sweeney, senior vice president for finance and
business/CFO; College President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. ’80; Francis H.
Smith, executive director of the Smith Hill CDC; and City Councilman David
A. Salvatore.
Below: MBA student John Henry Smith ’13, who produced the “Restoring Smith
Hill” documentary, offers remarks.​

Announcement made at film screening

Grant from College to support Smith Hill neighborhood home restoration

Providence College will give a three-year grant of $750,000 to the Smith Hill Community Development Corporation (CDC) to support safe and affordable housing for residents of the Smith Hill neighborhood near its campus.

College President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. ’80 announced the grant on Sunday, May 4, during the screening of Restoring Smith Hill, a 22-minute documentary by PC MBA student John Henry Smith ’13.

More than 100 people from the College — including faculty, students, and staff — and the community attended the film premiere and grant announcement under a tent next to the offices of the Smith Hill CDC at 231 Douglas Ave., where the College opened a community annex in 2013 and a student-run café, Common Grounds, this spring.

Father Shanley praised the Smith Hill CDC for “outstanding work in their core mission of reclaiming boarded-up and dilapidated houses, and restoring those properties to provide safe, affordable housing for the people of Smith Hill. … This grant is a way for us to publicly thank them for their partnership and to affirm our support for them as an organization.”

The grant — $250,000 per year for three years — will be used to improve the housing stock along Douglas Avenue and Admiral Street, gateways to the PC campus. The contribution, which  will not come from student tuition dollars or the school’s operating funds, represents the largest gift in the CDC’s 22-year history.

Francis H. Smith, executive director of the Smith Hill CDC, called the College the CDC’s “most vital private partner.”

“Funding in the non-profit housing arena is very competitive, and we have witnessed the dollars from government sources being reduced constantly,” Smith said. “This funding will go a long way in helping to bridge those gaps that only seem to be widening.”

In addition to Father Shanley and Francis H. Smith, remarks were given by John Henry Smith ’13 and City Councilman David A. Salvatore. John M. Sweeney, PC senior vice president for finance and business/CFO, was the master of ceremonies.

A “social element” to neighborhood restoration 

John Henry Smith ’13, who is the son of Francis, created the documentary to highlight the work of the Smith Hill CDC. Focusing on the renovation of two properties on Goddard Street, he interviewed two women, one a veteran, who had been waiting for homes for years. His film includes insights from his father and Jean Lamb, deputy director of the Smith Hill CDC; U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.; U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.; and City Councilman Terrence M. Hassett. 

Also interviewed are two PC professors, Dr. Keith W. Morton, professor of public and community service studies and associate director of the Feinstein Institute for Public Service, and Dr. Eric L. Hirsch, professor of sociology and an expert on homelessness.

Smith’s first work was a five-minute film about the Smith Hill CDC that he created for Rev. Kenneth Gumbert, O.P., professor of film studies in theatre arts, during an Introduction to Film course he took sophomore year.

“I began to realize there’s more to neighborhood restoration than homes,” Smith said. “There’s a whole social element to it.”

Recognizing the need to convey “the complexities of poverty” and the influence the restoration of homes has on residents, Smith worked on the longer documentary during his junior and senior years. He accumulated 100 hours of video. He started with a basic camcorder on loan from PC and then bought his own Canon T2 digital SLR. He edited his film in PC’s Feinstein Academic Center, finishing just before Christmas 2013.

Father Gumbert gave him the name of a contact at Rhode Island PBS who was “helpful and kind” in getting his film on the air, Smith said. He also was featured in a report on ABC 6 television.

Hopes to work in television

“I learned that community restoration is a massive undertaking, especially in a community like Smith Hill that is a blighted community,” said Smith. “I thought it was mostly about restoring two- and three-family houses and that’s it. I realize so much more goes into the process. It involves Rhode Island Housing, construction companies, community partners.”

One of five children, Smith grew up in Elmhurst, a few blocks from campus and not far from Smith Hill. His first job, at 16, was lifeguarding at the Madeline Rogers Recreation Center on Camden Avenue. He majored in social work and minored in film at PC, where his brother, Matthew Henry Smith ’16, is finishing his sophomore year. His sister, Emily Smith ’07, also an alum, is a teacher at La Salle Academy in Providence.

While studying full time for an MBA in management, Smith also is working with Father Gumbert to create a documentary for the College’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2017. He said he would ultimately like to work in television, perhaps in marketing.

“PC’s involvement is such a unique story. I don’t know of any relationship quite like the one Providence College has with the Smith Hill CDC,” he said.


—Vicki-Ann Downing

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