Diane A. Rhodes
Special to Village News
When Jessica Smith found herself faced with unfamiliar issues affecting her children, such as suicide and human trafficking, she did not know where to turn for help. It led her to create a community outreach nonprofit organization that offers free resources to help other families who find themselves in uncharted waters.
The main purpose of M.A.L.H.Y. Community Outreach Protective Services Inc. is to lead individuals "to accept their free spirit, redefine their freedom and create a positive personal survival journey." Providing free resources and services for ages 10-25, its acronym represents several areas that will help young people reach their full potential.
Mental health is addressed by providing assistance for those that are seeking counseling so they may learn healthy coping skills. Addiction may lead to needing help with job placement, housing, food and clothing. Love is provided in a safe environment by agency personnel. Human trafficking victims need help with medical exams, job placement, housing, food, clothing. Youth literacy is critical for self-sufficiency and is accomplished through workshops, sports camps, mediation services and more.
Although the Murrieta resident has been giving back to the local community since 2001, M.A.L.H.Y. officially became a nonprofit in March. As the mother of two daughters, 14 and 16, Smith said it is her personal experiences that led to the creation of M.A.L.H.Y. where she serves as president.
"Before COVID-19, my daughters had a highly active lifestyle from soccer, church activities, volunteering in the community, family vacations, etc. COVID-19 stopped everything and my youngest daughter, a sixth grader at the time, didn't have the coping skills to understand what was going on," Smith explained. "The isolation and not being able to maintain the same lifestyle, which at that time defined her, caused her to become depressed and attempt to end her life."
Smith said getting help for her daughter was made more difficult as she experienced a lack of mental health support for those who are 10-25 years old.
"Something awoke inside of me to create resources and services to help this age group," she said. "We, as a family, were already attending therapy because my oldest, at the age of 10, was approached by a human trafficker on a social app she used to communicate with her friends. This person requested her as a friend on a social media game and convinced her to meet up with him at a local park. My mother instincts kicked in and I started looking at her phone and apps and uncovered the conversation and requested help by law enforcement to stop my daughter from being kidnapped or harmed in some other way.
"I told myself if I stop my daughter from being kidnapped, I will create a program to help victims with housing, food, clothing, legal documents preparation, serving the legal documents, job placements, mediation, self-defense, therapy, transportation and wellness checks," Smith said.
And the idea for M.A.H.L.Y. was born.
"I want to help parents know they aren't alone in this, and more especially, provide resources for the youths in need," she said.
With a strong background in serving on the board of directors for various community-based organizations, Smith uses all her talents to offer free resources to those who need it most. She works as a commercial lender for a local bank and has more than 20 years of banking experience. One of the reasons she added a Youth Literacy component to M.A.L.H.Y. is to help youths be knowledgeable with credit, purchasing a home and investments.
Headquartered in Temecula, the agency serves all of Southern California but is currently focusing its efforts in Riverside and San Diego counties. Smith said the organization has become her life's passion and purpose and she plans to dedicate 100% of her time to helping others. She is joined by a board of directors that each has experienced some aspect of M.A.L.H.Y. in their personal lives and have certifications to help with the nonprofit's mission.
Secretary/Treasurer Charles "Chuck" Clarke Jr. served in the U.S. Navy for more than 20 years. He held the roles of Drug and Alcohol Program adviser and Suicide Awareness Prevention coordinator, ensuring that all sailors assigned to him were trained on and had access to all available resources the Department of Defense provides their servicemembers with substance abuse or mental health concerns. Clarke has a passion and commitment to serve others.
Event coordinator Romi Warren is a local entrepreneur, who loves to socialize around good vibes. She owns a ranch in the Wine Country of Temecula, where she maintains the power to control the narrative, and level of creativity on hosted events.
Community liaison Lucky has a literal hands-on approach as he has been using his hands to bless people physically, mentally and emotionally for 17 years through massage therapy. He also has had experience with mentally and emotionally abused women for the past 20 years. As a devoted husband and father, he strongly feels that it is the best way that he can give back to his community.
Volunteer coordinator JoyCelina V. Smith enjoys being part of social activities. The high school student is currently involved with water polo, Mock Trial, JROTC, Improv and a leadership role for Circle of Excellence. She is excited to be of service to her peers as an integral part of M.A.L.H.Y.
Because it is critical for Smith to offer services at no cost to those that need it most, she is always looking for ways to find funding, whether it be financial or in-kind donations, sponsorships or pledges. She encourages involvement at any level. The group is currently collecting toys and gift cards for children ages 10-17 until Saturday, Dec. 17.
"We are personally giving them out to the community as we attend events for youth in need in Hemet, Perris, Lake Elsinore, San Jacinto, Murrieta and the surrounding areas," Smith said. "M.A.L.H.Y. is advertising on social media and asking community partners to help us collect them. As of now, we have dispatched Santa's elves to begin collecting items obtained from our generous donors. We hope to hear from many more."
The nonprofit's acronym also serves as a guideline to the standards its members and volunteers exhibit in administering all its programs, services and projects to help young people. M-Master of their own destiny, empowering others through collaboration; A-Accountability. Owning responsibilities and tasks, establishing and managing appropriate expectations; L-Loving change. Committing to honesty, being fully prepared; H-Humility. Serving and supporting others; Y-Yielding Results. Actively listening to understand and being attentive and supportive.
Smith said M.A.L.H.Y.'s vision is, "To throw kindness around like confetti, leaving you smiling and nourishing the soul."