10 Questions for Elizabeth Smith
The irrepressible Elizabeth Smith is the new director of Peacetown - and a former MMA fighter (No, we're not joking)
Elizabeth Smith, the new executive director of Peacetown, is a whirlwind of energy. She moved to Sebastopol in 2018, but already she’s made significant contributions: reestablishing the local Soroptimist club, creating Peacetown Family Village, serving on the board of the Sebastopol Union School District, and now as the director of Peacetown.
Smith, who was born in Oklahoma and grew up in San Diego and Yuba and Sutter counties, cares deeply about children – her own (Hunter, 18, and Lucy, 8) and the community’s. For four years, she served as the community manager for Sonoma County PACEs Connection (Positive and Adverse Childhood Experiences). She is also the founder of Project Whole Child, a program that focuses on creating changes in the community to foster strong, healthy, emotionally connected children, families, and communities. Somehow, in her busy schedule she also finds time to teach yoga to children.
In 2021, she was recognized by the city of Sebastopol as a Local Who Makes a Difference. In 2022, she was awarded the Sebastopol Chamber of Commerce Volunteer of the Year, and the Sonoma County Gazette named her as one of five Sonoma County Heroes
Smith is turning 40 this year, so we thought we’d ask her to reflect a bit on where she’s been and where she - and Peacetown - are going in the future.
What drew you to Sebastopol?
When I first met Sebastopol, my heart skipped a beat, and it was love at first sight. I thought about Sebastopol often and had visions of what my life could be if I moved there. I loved that there were businesses with names like Grateful Bagel and Funk and Flash. There is much charisma and the boho glam flavor all throughout town. There is this sweet energy about Sebastopol that called to me, and I knew this was where I had to be. My business was successful and my kids were well established, yet my heart yearned to be in Sebastopol; so one day we decided to make the move. It will be five years this June of living here, and I am just as in love as when we first met.
What was the primary value emphasized in your home growing up and what is the primary value you are trying to instill in your children?
Home values were important growing up. It was important to my mom that we all sat as a family to eat a meal together. Having three kids in the house, all with busy lives, this was the one time in our day that we shared how things were going. My mom enjoyed cooking; she put a lot of love into her food. We would have a salad first, then our entree, followed by a home-made dessert. This quality time was full of laughter and holds a lot of special memories for me.
A value I am passionate about sharing with my kids are social values. To accept each others’ differences, to be respectful, be polite, be involved in the community, and to give back. Time invested means so much more than just donating money. Together we build positive connections and feel like we have a place in the community. It was important to me that they understood they have the ability to make a difference in their lives.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
There was a season in my life when I trained for MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) with the goal of being an opening fight for a big cage fight. I loved the intense training and had an outlet to channel my very high energy. My first fight was with a girl that went by the nickname Tyson and apparently had been training for years. The first blow to her nose almost made me cry, I felt so bad. Then she got me real good in the face. It shook me to my core; it hurt too! I wanted to stop the fight to hug her and apologize for hitting her. That's when I knew I am a lover not a fighter.
What are you most proud of and why?
I could easily say my kids, and I truly am. But what I am most proud of is myself. I'll toot my own horn. I have worked hard to be who I am today. I have paved my own path, went against the grain, and have followed my heart. I have taken my adversities and turned them into beautiful opportunities to be vulnerable by sharing my experiences and using my skill sets to create new things that help people. I am proud of myself for valuing self-care, investing in myself, being my best advocate, and loving who I am fully.
I am proud of myself for the amount of people that I have made a positive impact on and also for having grace for myself when I fall short. I am incredibly proud of myself for living my life authentically. I am proud that I dress how I want to because it empowers me and makes me feel good. I am proud to be me.
What's your favorite book/lecture/podcast you read or heard this year and why?
My favorite book is the Fifth Agreement by Don Miguel Ruiz, I enjoy this book because it is a reminder of the greatest gift we can give ourselves, which is the freedom to be who we really are. The best book I have read recently is What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing by Dr.Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey. It highlights how traumatic events suffered in childhood have a lasting impact on development, behavior and relationships. It inspires me to continue creating and providing positive childhood experiences and opportunities for people to know there are lots of different ways to heal and grow.
If you could learn a new thing, what would it be and why?
I would learn to use a pottery wheel. It intrigues me and seems like a sensual hobby that can have an astounding effect on the mind and soul. I don't typically like to make a mess, and I think this could be a grounding hobby where the mess is a part of the process that results in beauty.
What makes you happiest?
What makes me happiest is being at the beach, with my toes in the sand, the warm sun on my skin, listening to the ocean waves and journaling.
I think of you as a super-volunteer. For people who don't normally volunteer, what would you like to tell them about volunteering that would encourage them to try it?
There is this beautiful Swahili saying that I got tattooed on my arm with another super volunteer, Myriah Volk; that is “Kuumba.” Kuumba means to creatively leave your community better than you found it. I believe we all have the ability to do this. What I have found is that I am happier when I feel like I have a sense of belonging. When we each give our time with small but significant efforts, we are truly making a difference. Volunteers are often the glue that holds communities together. If you aren't sure where to volunteer, Peacetown definitely could use you in helping to make our summer concert series a success. So reach out to me! (wink wink) (If you would like to volunteer for Peacetown, contact Elizabeth here: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?
If I could change one thing about my life, it would be to have long luscious hair. After my second child, the texture of my hair changed and does not grow as abundant as it once did. No, I'm kidding. If I could change one thing about my life, it would be to travel and experience the world. I have had tickets to India, St. Croix, and Costa Rica; they all fell through. I have never been out of the country. Well, technically, I have been to Tijuana, Mexico. I got myself into a lot of trouble there. Ha!
Any changes on the horizon for Peacetown now that you're the new director?
I am absolutely thrilled to be in this new role and can see the bigger picture for Peacetown. It is exciting that we now have an office space that we rent from the Sebastopol Chamber of Commerce. That is a huge change for us as an organization.
Definitely a priority is continuing to improve the Summer Concert Series. I am hoping we bring in some new varieties of music like Latin pop, hip-hop, and DJs.
A big change I anticipate is how people think of Peacetown. When they hear the name, usually people think of the summer concert series as being all we do. We are so much more than that! We are a non-profit with a mission to promote peace through events, classes, and community gatherings.
The board and I envision developing a peace curriculum that can be taken into the schools. Teaching children how to find peace within themselves, the playground, the community, and the world.
More emphasis on music education for children is coming. We currently are sponsoring two boys from Sebastopol to attend School of Rock for a whole season. It would be great to offer a Peacetown children's music program.
I’m also interested in expanding Peacetown out of Sebastopol by offering peace pop-ups throughout Sonoma County and really even beyond.