When Shana Smith isn’t wrangling in three children, the 43-year-old mom and Army wife is volunteering with the very organizations that once helped her family when their foster children were in crisis, like Tennessee Kids Belong Together, The Davis House and National American Mothers.
And now, in addition to foster mom, adoptive mother, military spouse and entrepreneur, Smith can add Mrs. Tennessee United States to her long list of impressive titles.
Smith was crowned Mrs. Tennessee United States in July and will compete for the title of Mrs. United States in Memphis in October.
As a foster care advocate for 16 years, Smith and her husband Master Sgt. Grant Smith, have fostered more than 20 children and were blessed to adopt three children over the years, making them a party of five.
“We are often asked how people can fix the foster care system; start with supporting families in crisis,” Smith said. “There are almost 250,000 children that enter foster care each year. As children are removed and moved through the foster care system, we are missing the key piece of the puzzle, which is supporting families in crisis to avoid removal in the first place. Once a child enters foster care, it simply adds to the number of people that need to step in to fully commit to the best interests of those children.”
Smith is no stranger to the situations that can put families in crisis. Prior to meeting her husband, Smith fled a previous abusive marriage at the age of 22. Having nowhere to go and no one who could help, she fled with only a backpack and lived in her car for six months before she could save enough money to rent an apartment.
“It was occasionally scary and often sad, but I realized in those moments that I was safe and, as imperfect as the situation was, it had moments of absolute perfection because I found a community and love around me,” she said.
As Smith leaned on her community, she knew that someday she wanted to provide that same support. In 2006, she got her foster care license while still single and later met the man who would support her in her goal to help others.
“Our three children are among the two percent, or 1.5 million, of the children in the United States who are adopted,” she said. “We have seen the struggles that they have had, struggles that no child should have. Being Mrs. United States, I’ll have a larger reach to aid families that are in crisis, raise awareness for children in foster care, as well as create and facilitate support for adoptive families. It would also mean showing my children that reaching for your dreams is possible at any age.”
Smith is dedicated to using her title to bring attention to a number of issues children are facing. On Sept. 10, she’ll attend the annual Button Ball with The Davis House, a local non-profit child advocacy center that provides trauma-informed care and education to children, families and the community as they navigate through the world of abuse. On Sept. 16, Smith will speak at the Operation Rose inaugural gala to bring awareness to foster children who are trafficked. It is estimated that children in foster care are 80 percent more likely to be sex trafficked. Then on Sept. 24, Smith will attend the Strong Together national suicide prevent event to bring awareness that children in foster care are four times more likely to complete suicide than other children.
“We all need community, sometimes it comes when we least expect it and often before we realize how much we need it,” Smith said. “One of the most important lessons I learned as I navigated my own struggle was to pay that forward as soon as I was able. My husband and I are grateful for the chance to be able to do that. Through our experiences as a foster and adoptive family for the past 16 years, we’ve learned that putting the child’s best interests above your own is imperative to the health and long-term success of our children.”
The national Mrs. United States pageant will be held on Oct. 15 at the Cannon Center for Performing Arts in Memphis.