Alumni Spotlight: Evan Smith (LLA ’19)

Can you explain a little bit more about how you got connected with the PlusMe Project and how you eventually joined their board? What is the mission of the organization and who do they serve?

Shortly after graduating from Leadership LA in 2019, I knew that I wanted to make an impact in Los Angeles outside of working for a nonprofit, whether applying to be a commissioner for my city or join a nonprofit board; I wanted to make a difference.

I got connected with the PLUS ME Project through volunteer match.  I had heard about PLUS ME over the years, but it had never crossed my mind to join their board.  It was meant to be as soon as PLUS ME appeared after signing up for volunteer match.  The mission of PLUS ME Project is “a community partner dedicated to empowering middle & high school youth to build their confidence for college, career, and community advancement by teaching the art of storytelling.”  The moment that I read the mission statement, I was in. I truly believe in the power of story and that your story matters and the cherry on top for me was their values, community, equity and social justice, all things I stand behind.

Shortly after applying for the Board, Richard, the Executive Director and SCLN alum, reached out, and I went through multiple rounds of interviews and they impressed me with the process every step of the way.  It’s a dedicated board who is passionate about the work of PLUS ME.  You learn a lot about an organization by seeing how the Board and Executive Director work together and it was very clear that the Board supported Richard and his vision.   After multiple interviews, they appointed me to the Board of Directors as of November 2020.

Describe how your experience in Leadership L.A./SCLN may have inspired, prepared, or connected you to take on this new endeavor.

My experience in Leadership L.A./SCLN absolutely inspired and prepared me for this new endeavor.  Being a part of Leadership L.A. gave me such a fresh perspective on civic engagement and ways to make a positive impact within your community.  It also gave me exposure to the various challenges that Los Angeles has faced, continues to face and will face, which allowed me to figure out where my niche would be.

One of the best things that I learned from the program was the power of community and the power of bringing people together.  It’s amazing how many organizations are trying to accomplish similar goals, yet not everyone works together to achieve it, but when they do, it’s amazing what gets accomplished.  Over the last year, I have used that knowledge in my work at USTA Southern California and have brought the nonprofits I work with together to achieve collective impact.

Describe your thoughts on growing as a leader and serving your community. Do you have any leadership advice for your fellow alumni? Any lessons learned through being new to a nonprofit board?

I can honestly say that the program helped me grow into the leader I am today. Through the program I learned that my personal mission is: “to make a positive impact in everything I do and with everyone I meet through empathy, integrity, courage and drive.”  I’ve always seen myself as a leader and take on leadership roles, but Leadership LA amplified my skill sets. I’ve always believed in having a growth mindset and “always be a work in progress.” It’s okay that I don’t have all the answers or don’t have all the experience, that doesn’t make me less of a leader and it shouldn’t stop me from taking leadership roles and continue to grow.

Through my work with USTA Southern California, I do a lot of work within Los Angeles and use tennis as a vehicle to promote healthy communities, and I wouldn’t have known how vital the work we do is to the communities we serve.  It has allowed me to take what I learned through Leadership LA and apply that knowledge in my work with an understanding of how everything is interconnected and how our work can make an impact.

Being on the board of PLUS ME Project allows me to do that in such a special way, and I’m so proud to be a part of this organization.  My advice to my fellow alums is to remember to “always be a work in progress” and continue to make sure our communities are “always a work in progress.” You are all leaders and I know we will have progress with you all leading the way.

Connect with Evan on LinkedIn!