Rundee Smith knows she wasn’t always dealt the best cards in life. The 36-year-old Fort Worthian grew up in the Historic Southside with her great-grandparents. Her mom was often in jail.
Smith became pregnant at age 17 and gave birth to her first daughter shortly after high school.
But she didn’t let her situation stop her from finding joy and purpose in life.
“I didn’t understand it at first. I am a believer and I believe Jesus had this certain plan for me that I just couldn’t see back then,” Smith said.
Smith went on to graduate from Texas Wesleyan University, where she studied early childhood education with the goal of becoming a teacher. However, she soon found her calling elsewhere.
In a way, Smith’s passion for helping young people realize their full potential – and see what resources are available – stems from her experiences as a teen mom.
“I was a young teenage parent and I want to show them that there are resources out there, there is help,” she said. “It may be hard but there are people who want to help you.”
Her journey first took her to graduate school, where she obtained a master’s degree. Then she went on to work at The Women’s Center in Fort Worth, where she was frequently exposed to the trauma many of the clients there experienced.
But the part-time gig was not enough for the mother of two, and she ended up working at One Safe Place, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing crime and violence in Tarrant County.
During her time at One Safe Place, she learned about human trafficking. Prostitution is what first came to mind, she said.
“Culture-wise, we grew up and if we saw somebody in this situation, which is like on the corner, people will label those victims that,” she said. “I didn’t know that so I learned better and I decided to do better.”
As Smith started to teach classes to young people about trafficking, a new opportunity came up — help start a chapter of Unbound Now in Fort Worth. As one of only three advocates, Smith helped build Unbound Now North Texas from the bottom up.
“All we knew was how to love people and how to try to get them help,” Smith said. “The scariest feeling is to know that you have not one but two degrees and then you have not one but two children that you have to provide for and you will essentially step out on faith and say ‘God, do you really want me to go to this job?’”
Five years later, Smith is now leading the organization’s trafficking team and works to advocate for commercially and sexually exploited youth.
Lydia Carlock, a task force coordinator at Unbound and Smith’s co-worker, described her as a servant leader, always willing to be there for her clients, whose average age is between 12 and 14.
“Everything she touches grows,” Carlock said. “Rundee’s always going to be there for them.”
Chris Cage, director of Unbound’s drop-in center, described Smith as someone who is wise and compassionate with her clients. It’s like “she puts herself in their shoes” and understands their needs, he said.
“Every time she speaks, I listen,” Cage said. “One thing she taught me is to keep a record of the things you learned so the next person down the road doesn’t have to learn the same things and you have the wisdom to share.”
For Smith, helping trafficked youth means no one gets turned away. And whether she is able to help out someone that day, she hopes their interaction gives them a chance to see something different and realize there is a way out.
“Don’t dwell on what you cannot control. Move forward with the things that you have control over. You get to decide if you want joy,” she said.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on April 13 to clarify what services One Safe Place offers.
Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter at @ssadek19.
At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.
Rundee Smith’s Bio:
Birthplace: Fort Worth
Family: Married to my husband (5 years, 6 in May); 2 daughters, and a dog
Education: Bachelor’s from Texas Wesleyan University and master’s from Capella University.
Work Experience: 18+ years of working with youth; currently CSEY Program Coordinator at Unbound Now (5 years)
Volunteer Experience: Currently I do not volunteer in this season of life. I have a part-time job at a retirement home in addition to my full-time career at Unbound Now.
First Job: McDonald’s off Interstate 20 and Hulen in Fort Worth
Advice for someone learning to be a leader: Learning is the evidence of curiosity. When you learn, whether it’s through life experience or books, don’t forget the struggle of what you encountered during your learning experience. Help pave the way for future leaders by sharing your knowledge, skills, and testimony so that the future leaders can pick up where I will eventually pass the baton to the next leader.
Best Advice ever received: Whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly; do it to the best of your ability.