For Immediate Release
March 13, 2018
Contact Information

South Side Help Center
Vanessa Smith, Executive Director
+1-773-701-4223 office
GreaterWorks! Integrated Communications for South Side Help Center
Creola A. Kizart-Hampton, President
+1.800.492.9616 office
+1.773.875.4531 mobile

(BPRW) Betty L. Smith, Community Service Leader and Founder of Chicago’s South Side Help Center, Passes at 76

(Black PR Wire) CHICAGO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Mrs. Betty Louise Smith passed peacefully in her home after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, on Tuesday evening, March 6, 2018. The home going will take place at the church where Smith spent many years in faithful service.

Where:                                                                            Chatham-Avalon Church of Christ, 8601 South State Street, Chicago, IL

                                                                                       Dr. Daniel Harrison, Lead Minister

When:                                                                              Saturday, March 17, 2018

                                                                                        Wake: 10:00 AM

                                                                                        Funeral: 11:00 AM-12:30 PM*

                                                                                         Burial: 1:30 PM, Cedar Park Cemetery, 12740 South Halsted, Calumet Park, IL

                                                                                          Repast: 2:30-3:30 PM, Chatham Avalon Church of Christ

*Services will be shown Live at

Betty was born on February 5, 1942 in Sandhill, Mississippi to the late Dolly Mae Turnage and Sam Stewart. Her parents helped her embrace the value of education by enrolling her in Piney Wood’s Junior College, an all-Black, no-nonsense, boarding school which is also considered to be an “academic oasis” in rural Mississippi. Upon graduation, Betty relocated to Chicago where she continued her education and earned a certification as respiratory technician/therapist and also went on to earn a certification in non-profit management from Roosevelt University. While in Chicago, Betty also met, and in 1963 married the man of her dreams, her loving husband, Vannish E. Smith. They remained a devoted married couple, active in social and civic affairs, world travel and dedicated community service, for 47 years until he departed this life in 2010.

Together, Betty and Vannish nurtured and raised their two daughters Vanessa and Valerie. Betty guided the lives of her daughters educationally and in service to God and humankind and they both ultimately grew a passion for serving the community. As a respiratory therapist, Betty worked at various hospitals including Presbyterian-St. Luke (now Rush) Hospital. In 1987, while working at Ingalls’s Hospital, Betty noticed that many Black men were men dying of HIV, and that they were being shunned by family, friends and even pastors. It was then that she founded South Side Help Center (SSHC), a not-for-profit community based organization, with the goal of educating the African-American religious community on HIV/AIDS in order to help negate the stigma and spread of the virus.

Throughout the following years, her husband Vannish and other family members and friends worked with her to build the success and sustainability of SSHC. Her daughter Vanessa volunteered during her years in college and became a youth HIV peer- program leader and subsequently Chief Operating Officer. Betty’s other daughter, Valerie also volunteered throughout her college years and even connected support of her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, to the agency before going on to marry and work with various youth development programs until she passed in 1998 of breast cancer.

Throughout her twenty-one years as executive director of SSHC, Betty was bestowed numerous prestigious accolades and awards, and featured in several publications, including the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, TRIBUNE, DEFENDER, WASHINGTON POST and ESSENCE MAGAZINE. Betty retired in 2008 and passed the executive director’s torch to her daughter Vanessa. Even though she was battling Alzheimer’s disease, Betty continued to do television interviews and make appearances in support of South Side Help Center, including being present in September 2017, for the celebration of its 30th Anniversary at the historic Parkway Ballroom.

Betty has a reputation of strength, professionalism, diplomacy and uncompromising advocacy and is known as a woman who laughed heartily, but “took her coffee black…. no sugar, no cream.” She is also known as an adept storyteller, who could draw in a person’s attention and support, with her sharp wit and mellow voice. Today, Betty’s legacy, South Side Help Center, is the oldest African-American-led community based organization addressing HIV/AIDS in the Black community both in the city of Chicago, and State of Illinois.

Beyond being a dedicated wife, mother, grandmother, and consummate civic leader and businesswoman, Betty was a sincere “giver.” She gave of her time, essence and money in establishing the Valerie Smith-Reid Scholarship Fund (named in tribute to her daughter), which provided thousands of dollars in scholarships to high school seniors to help them with first year college expenses. Students from high schools all across the city of Chicago benefitted from the VSR Scholarship Fund. Betty enjoyed reading entry applications of youth where they expressed past accomplishments and their hopes and dreams for the future. Betty organized many fundraisers over more than a decade to benefit at-risk, African-American youth who wanted to continue their education beyond high school.

Betty also loved her church! She enjoyed hearing the pastor teach and the choirs sing, and even further, she loved serving people in need. After her retirement, she spent many hours during the week volunteering in the Chicago Food Depository/Food Bank program at Chatham Avalon Church of Christ. There was no judgment, only the joy of serving as she would mingle with co-laborers at the church and happily bag and give away groceries.

Betty is survived by her daughter Vanessa, her very special grandson Aaron, two great-grandchildren Aaron Jr. and Ariss; siblings Elex (Lileann), Willie Stewart, Pearl Stewart, Margie (Charles) Ross, Brenda Campbell (Walter) Jenkins; Jackson, MS; Hattie McGinty, Glen Burnie, MD; Linda (Lloyd) Robinson, Morgan City, LA; and Maryland Thompson, Baton Rouge, LA. and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and other family members and friends. She also leaves the cherished legacy of community service which she embodied and a challenge for others to--“Live Your Mission, Serve People and Strengthen Communities.”


For 30 years, South Side Help Center has provided critical services to help negate the incidence and impact of HIV/AIDS in Chicago’s communities of color. Initially founded in 1987 by Betty Smith, this non-profit organization’s initial goal was to educate the African-American religious community so it could be sensitive to the needs of people impacted by HIV/AIDS. SSHC’s services have evolved to include HIV/AIDS outreach and direct care services and a comprehensive range of youth and capacity building programs to help people of all ages embrace a lifestyle of prevention against mental, physical and social ills by providing positive, healthy alternatives so that community residents can lead productive lives. In March, 2015, under the leadership of its current executive director, Vanessa Smith (daughter of Betty Smith), the agency to became an affiliate of AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization. AHF currently provides medical care and/or services to over 800,000 individuals in more than 430 clinics across 38 countries worldwide in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean, the Asia/Pacific Region and Eastern Europe. To learn more about the programs and services of SSHC visit and Twitter @southsidehelp and Instagram: @southsidehelp.