You’ve just got to love Kim Rice Smith.
At least that’s the conclusion of the committee that has been choosing the annual recipient of the I Love That Lady award since 2010.
Smith won the honor — and a $5,000 check for her charity — during an awards dinner Thursday evening at the Riverfront Convention Center in New Bern for her work with a disadvantaged youth lunch program.
Smith’s selection was announced by a video that included comments from several of her friends and coworkers praising her.
Accepting the award, Smith said she was completely surprised.
“I feel like I have a lot of really sneaky friends,” she told the crowd of about 230 women gathered for the event.
Smith coordinates The Summer Cafe program that is run out of her home church, Cherry Point United Methodist in Havelock. In the past, the program involved putting together lunches for students in the area during the summer months. Those students helped are generally the ones who qualify for free and reduced lunches during the school year.
“We have at least a hundred kids,” she said of the program. “They hang around. They play air hockey in the fellowship hall. I like the relationship because you get to know the kids.”
At the request of the local schools, Smith — who is on the Craven County Board of Education — is to begin serving on weekends as well. Before winning the award, she didin’t know how she would do it.
“We operate completely on donations and we’re a really small church,” said Smith, a Havelock High graduate. “I had prayed about it and went to food programs about it to see if we could partner on it.” In fact, she added, “I didn’t know if we could do it for another year at all. God really blesses.”
“I don’t like recognition,” she said, “But I appreciate the check. We operate on a shoestring budget.”
With the addition of $5,000 to the ministry, she said she hopes to have that weekend program up and running within the month.
Two other women were named as finalists for the evening: Dena Sierocki, founder of the Greenbriar Children’s Fund, and Kathy Petrichko, who is involved in numerous area charities. Both received checks for $1,000 to be donated to their choice of charities.
Stephanie Seymore emceed the night and told the audience that “this year’s selection process was the hardest one yet. We received several dozen nominations and they were all full of amazing women ... It required quite a bit of agonizing to come to some decisions. What we realized is that we are surrounded by amazing ladies in our community.”
The committee is already accepting nominations for next year’s “I Love That Lady” award.
“The whole concept [for the award] is that it’s a humanitarian effort,” Jane Maulucci, who is next year’s chairman, said.
Nominations in the past have come in a variety of forms.
“Some of them that were submitted, it was a dossier. You’d think they were going for the Nobel Prize,” she said. Other nominations were simple letters of description, “Look at what this lady is doing. It could be as simple as a handwritten note,” she said.
The winner never knows she has been selected until the prize is announced at the banquet. If the winner hasn’t happened to purchase a ticket for the night, Maulucci said, they have ways of getting them there. “It’s a girls’ night out,” she said. “We coerce people to come.”
The committee members are Kim Briele, Gay Price, Thea Kincaid, Amy Solter, Pinkie Moore, Laura Towarnicky, Holly Willis, Jane Maulucci, and Chrissy Hurst. Also helping out with this special fifth anniversary event were Peggy Barnes, Carol Brooks (last year’s winner) and Leigh Wilkinson.
Bill Hand is a reporter for the Sun Journal.