Posted by StreetWise in Vendor Profiles“They call me the ‘Mayor of Dearborn’ because I know everybody,” said Don Smith.
At Dearborn and Maple Streets in Chicago’s historic Gold Coast district, you’ll find Don, a StreetWise Vendor and member of the Quality Assurance Team affectionately referred to as the ‘Mayor of Dearborn,’ due to popularity with local residents.
Whether Smith is helping children cross the street, hailing taxis for the elderly or simply introducing neighbors to one another, giving back to the community that aided his transformation from alcoholic to clean, successful family man is the most important aspect of his job.
“My customers are most important, because without them, I wouldn’t be who I am. So now I’m giving something back to them,” Don said. “I want to give something back. They helped me get back on my feet, and I owe them.”
Don, 51, was born in Cabrini Green, and was able to avoid gangs and violence by becoming involved with sports and school while growing up. His father, Willie Smith, a veteran who died in January, was an inspiration and role model throughout his life.
“He worked hard, he worked every day, he didn’t retire until he was 73 years old,” said Don, who has six brothers and sisters. “He worked in a bar and didn’t have any off days. He kept a roof over our heads, food in our mouths, clothes on our backs.”
“He was 89 when he passed, and I promised him that since he took care of me that I would take care of him until the day he died,” Don said.
In honor of his father’s 59-year marriage, Don just married his long-time girlfriend Danita on his parents’ anniversary. “She’s my backbone. She’s helped me. She’s stuck with me through thick and thin and helped push me though the troubles.”
“I’m trying to break his record,” he said. “I’ve been with Danita for 22 years. So I want to add to those years and keep it going. If I do that, then I can prove something to myself.”
Don and Danita recently moved to the South Loop, and bought a new puppy.
“I’ve never really had a dog of my own,” Don said of Snowball, a four-month old pit bull. “She’s getting big, so she keeps me on my toes trying to keep up with her and train her.”
Apart from his responsibilities at home, Don assures quality in the area of sales, security, vendor training, recruitment and community relations for StreetWise. He assists fellow vendors while displaying a model for change. Vendors like Don have volunteered their time to help the organization expand and break stereotypes and misconceptions about homelessness.
“I appreciate everybody that helps keep us going and support us,” Don said. “I love my customers and they love me. I want them to know I’m getting married, and that I’m very happy. I just want to continue being their friend.”
“If there’s anything I can help my customers with, all they have to do is ask,” the “Mayor of Dearborn” said.
Written by Daniel Meshel and Brittany Langmeyer
StreetWise Contributor and StreetWise Staff