Christmas 2020 marked a milestone for Kennedy Smith.
For the first time since he could remember, the Steel Valley graduate wasn’t on a bus traveling to a high school or college gymnasium for a basketball game. This time, he was home with his family without any worries about getting to practice or finding a court to get in a workout.
“My whole life was kind of centered around sports, from when I was six all the way up until 22, when I finally finished playing,” Smith said. “Last year was one of the first years that I just stayed home and didn’t have to worry about anything…and that was a great feeling.”
Basketball was Kennedy Smith’s ticket to college. The 2016 Steel Valley graduate shined on the court for the Ironmen. But college basketball provided a rude awakening. He wasn’t the star anymore, and it became clear that basketball was not in his future.
In search of a new purpose, Smith found himself on a path of community service. He’s now the community and social outreach manager at the Best of the Batch Foundation in Munhall, where he’s able to give back to the community that played an integral role in his childhood.
“It means the world to me,” he said, “because when I was growing up, all the stuff that I saw in this community, I always told myself I don't want anyone else to see that or go through what I had to go through. If I’m able to do it, there’s no way you can tell me that you can’t.”
Smith’s connections to the Best of the Batch Foundation date back to early childhood. His father was one of the first coaches in the Project C.H.U.C.K. youth basketball league run by the foundation. Smith now helps run the league.
“I've been a part of the foundation probably since I was the age of three,” he said.
Reaching this point took some soul-searching for Smith. Basketball initially took him to Thiel College, but after his freshman year he transferred to La Roche University, where he majored in marketing and management with a double-minor in professional writing and accounting. While he still had his moments on the court, the next four years were spent answering an important question: If his future didn’t include basketball, what did it include?
His search for an answer was driven by a vow he made as a high school freshman.
“When I was in ninth grade, I lost my sister. She had a lifelong fight with cerebral palsy,” Smith said. “I always told myself at that point, if I have any opportunity, I’m going to do it for me and for her. I had the opportunity so that I could do great things at college and expand my education, and I used that as motivation.”
He joined a program with Vincentian where La Roche students receive housing in exchange for volunteering and conducting activities with residents in a senior housing facility. He interned with the Steelers, where he learned about the work that goes on in professional sports away from the field. He also learned about the possibility of being a champion off the court.
“Just because you’re not the star on the court doesn’t mean you can’t be involved,” he said. “You can still win a ring. You can have that championship feeling. You could still do that. That’s all still possible.”
For now, though, he’s embraced his work with the Best of the Batch Foundation.
“We all have the same common goal of helping the community,” he said. “That’s kind of what drew me in. I have a passion for helping others and everybody else wants to help here, too. I feel like this is the right place to be because it’s my community also.”
As the holidays approach, the foundation is busy with the Batch A Toys program. The foundation adopted more than 150 families in Allegheny County have a great Christmas. Donations will be accepted through December 21. The foundation is collecting toys for children and essential household items for adults. Drop-off locations can be found at batchfoundation.org, which also includes registry links with Amazon and Walmart that will deliver the items right to the foundation.
“We go out Christmas Eve every year and deliver the presents. It’s just so heartwarming seeing all the reactions from the families and seeing how grateful they are,” he said. “It just makes me feel good because all I did was play a small part in helping them have a great Christmas, and you can't take that away.”