Over the past 25 years, Patricia Roach Smith has had the good fortune to change careers multiple times.
Yet, she never had to move. She never had to change organizations.
And she never thought she would spend her entire career at the same place.
“Oh, my goodness, who stays in a job for 25 years?” said Roach Smith, chief operating officer at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. “People don’t do that anymore do they?”
Roach Smith did.
And she wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“This has been a really good place to work,” said Roach Smith, who was recognized for her years of service during an all-staff meeting March 25. “It’s been a great fit.”
Roach Smith started as a part-time therapist with Bert Nash in 1987. Since then, she has steadily risen through the ranks. Looking back, she is grateful for the opportunities she has received.
“I was able to work part time here when my kids were little, which made such a difference,” Roach Smith said. “It really instilled in me a loyalty to this center, because of the good work we do here, but also because of what the center did for me.”
When Roach Smith started at Bert Nash, the center was located in an old wing of Lawrence Memorial Hospital, which has been torn down.
A lot has changed since then.
There have been sweeping changes in mental health care during the past 25 years. There have been changes in services, changes in practices, and changes in treatments. Roach Smith had a hand in implementing many of those changes.
“Pat started her career at the Bert Nash Center just as the mental health system in Kansas was about to undergo a seismic change,” said Bert Nash CEO David Johnson. “At a tender, young age, Pat was instrumental in guiding the shift from institutional care to community-based mental health services in Douglas County.”
Roach Smith’s first job at Bert Nash was as an in-home services therapist.
“That was right at the start of community-based services,” Roach Smith said. “It was a very exciting time.”
When her daughter started school, Roach Smith decided to work full time and take on more responsibility. In 1991, she became coordinator of Pathways, another community-based services program. A position she held until 1994.
That’s when Roach Smith was promoted to her first administrative job with Bert Nash. She became director of child and family services, which provides mental health services to children and their families. When Roach Smith started as head of child and family services, she had a staff of 12. By the time she left that position, the staff had more than doubled.
In 1998, Roach Smith changed careers again. She left the clinical side of Bert Nash and accepted a position as community development director.
“The job was more about friend-raising, so we didn’t raise a lot of money,” Roach Smith of her development role. “We did do an annual appeal, but we had a lot of grants back then.”
In 2000, the Bert Nash Center celebrated its 50th anniversary, and Roach Smith took on the assignment of coordinating the community celebration.
“We met with all these groups: business, government, schools, and we asked them what makes up a healthy community,” Roach Smith said. “From the feedback we got from the focus groups, we designed our 50th anniversary celebration, which addressed the concerns people talked about in building a healthy community.”
In her 25 years at Bert Nash, Roach Smith has worked for just two CEOs: the late Sandra Shaw, who came up on the clinical side and worked for the center for 30 years, and the man who replaced Shaw and has held the position for the past 12 years.
“I’ve worked for Dave now about as long as I worked for Sandra,” Roach Smith said. “I have been fortunate to work for two excellent leaders. I have learned a lot from them.”
Johnson hired Roach Smith for her current job, which made her the No. 2 administrator at the center and the CEO’s right-hand man, or, woman.
“Twenty-five years later, she remains young and energetic as we continue to navigate through turbulent times,” Johnson said. “I am thankful every day that she is the chief operating officer here.”
At first, Roach Smith wasn’t sure she wanted the COO job.
“I never thought I would be the chief operating officer,” Roach Smith said.
Turns out, she was perfect for the job.
“This has been a good fit for me,” Roach Smith said. “Because I brought myself to this job, and I am a good match with Dave.”
As COO, Roach Smith oversees the day-to-day operations of the center and its nearly 200 employees. Bert Nash provides mental health services to about 6,000 Douglas County residents a year.
“I make sure we are attending to the day-to-day things while keeping an eye on the horizon,” Roach Smith said. “Basically, I keep things moving. But I don’t do that alone. I have the privilege of working with a tremendous group of colleagues whose commitment to the center is inspiring.”
Roach Smith’s favorite part of the job is taking on a project and making it happen.
“I like motivating other people and getting things going,” she said. “Give me a project and I can get it done.”
People like Roach Smith, who spend their entire careers working for a nonprofit, certainly don’t do it for the money. They don’t do it because it’s easy. They do it to be of service to others. They do it to make a difference.
For Roach Smith, that’s what makes the past 25 years so rewarding.
“It’s hard work. It’s not for everybody,” Roach Smith said looking back on her career in the nonprofit world. “I like to quote Bert Nash finance director Tracy Kihm (repeating a line from the movie "A League of Their Own') who says it's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”