Trial by Fire, a Latina Leading The Atlanta Fire Rescue Foundation

(This post was written by Shirley Anne Smith, Founding Director of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Foundation.  May 4th is International Firefighters Day)

I never thought it would easy but I always thought it would be worth it.

My entire life, I have dedicated myself to servant leadership. I dedicated my life to nonprofits way before I even realized the magnitude of the work I was doing. The work of nonprofits is all about the mission regardless of the trials and tribulations. In my line of work, I get told “no” 90% of the time but when it’s a “yes”, it feels like the whole world is smiling at you.

Through my years of working in nonprofits, I have learned that persistence and consistency is the key. Since my undergraduate studies at Georgia State University, I have had one thing on my mind. My one true desire has been to make a difference in the lives of others. My personal motto is similar to someone competing in the Miss Universe Pageant, I just want world peace. My academic and professional aspirations have led me to amazing organizations such as the Georgia Coalition for Domestic Violence, Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta, LaAmistad and now the Atlanta Fire Rescue Foundation where I serve as its founding Executive Director. I also have balanced work and family with volunteering outside of work and I have served on leadership roles with several organizations, including but not limited to, the Junior League of Atlanta, Atlanta Metropolitan State College as well as the Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL). Volunteering to me is important work, it is simply not compensated monetarily, however many of the tools and skill sets I have acquired during the years, I would not have learned through my normal day-to-day workplace, I owe them to volunteerism.

My evolution as a nonprofit executive has not been easy and it I definitely have experienced many ups and downs. Some days I feel like I am on fire and some days I feel like the fire gave out, no pun intended.

I have been very strategic when it comes to my career choices but I also have experienced many challenges that I didn’t anticipate. The work of nonprofits is about endurance. I can somewhat compare it to running a marathon. You know the work is going to take 26.2 miles but along the way you prepare for the 5k, the 10k, the 15k and occasional half marathon. While you may sometimes not run the full distance, you always prepare and keep running like you ready to run the entire distance on a moment’s notice.

I am very privileged to live, work and play in a city that makes me feel like I can accomplish anything. Think about, I am not just your average Executive Director, I am a Latina millennial leading of the city’s most prominent nonprofit representing the male dominated field of fire administration. I sit at the perfect intersection where a nonprofit serves a public agency but creates support from the business community.

No matter how many fires, I strive to keep going. Not just for me, my family or my community but for the first responders I represent. At the end of the day, the first responders of our city need equipment, supplies and training to save lives.

YES THEY SAVE LIVES! and my role with the Atlanta Fire Rescue Foundation is to increase the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department’s capacity and capabilities for emergency preparedness and response so they can be there for us when we need them.

Let’s make sure we are also there for them.  If you see a firefighter today, remember a little thanks goes a long way.


Shirley Anne Smith is the founding Executive Director of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Foundation has over 10 years of  nonprofit management experience.  Shirley Anne graduated with a Master in Public Administration from Nova Southeastern University and a dual degree program in journalism and sociology from Georgia State University. She is a graduate of the GALEO Institute of Leadership, Council of Volunteer Administrators Member of the Year and 30 Under 30 Nonprofit Leader award recipient.  She graduated from the 2017 Class of LEAD Atlanta. When she is not doing public speaking engagements, she enjoys her consulting work as a facilitator for the Georgia Center for Nonprofits. Shirley Anne is married to her husband, Leroy, and has three children. 15094247_10209546880622446_5802825634568554069_n

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