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  • Writer's picturePaul LaLonde

Street Level Influencer: Get to Know Okie Smith

“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” – Christopher Reeve


In a recent blog post, I wrote about the power of the Street Level Influencer. I argue that some of the most impactful people in our lives are right in front of us! We just need to remember to tap into those around us for their wisdom and influence.

So, I wanted to put the spotlight on some HR pros in my network who have provided me with life giving energy recently! My next few blog posts will be a series where I get to share stories of some amazing individuals that you should connect with!

I continue this series by introducing you to Okie Smith.

I’ll never forget when I first met Okie. I had recently posted an ad for a transit dispatcher. Okie had applied. Despite her not having any transit experience, I wanted to interview her because some of her other experience was interesting. During the interview I quickly realized she would not be a fit for the dispatcher role. However, I wanted her to work for the agency. I didn’t know where, and I didn’t know how, but Okie needed to work for me!

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a position open for her right away! So, I called her once a week for several weeks asking her if she had found a job yet while I waited for an opportunity to open for her. Every time she said no, I silently rejoiced, as there was still a chance to nab her for the agency. Thankfully, after about three weeks, I finally had a position open that fit Okie’s talents. I called her back one final time, and she said she still hadn’t accepted another job, so I asked her if she wanted one! She told me “Of course! I had been hoping it’d work out with your agency.”

Originally, Okie was hired as a meals on wheels assistant, but I quickly discovered her skills made for an amazing HR professional and convinced her to join the HR side, where she’s developed into a superstar over the past three years! Without Okie, my attempts at building a responsive HR department at our agency wouldn’t have been nearly as successful as they have been. I often hear feedback from employees that Okie is there for them. They trust her, and they know if they go to her with a problem, it will be addressed.

I may be biased, but Okie is one of the best HR professionals I have ever worked with or known, and her HR journey has only just begun!

I asked Okie some questions, and this is what she had to say!

  1. Where do you currently work and what is your role?

I currently work for the Voluntary Action Center in Sycamore, IL as a Human Resource Generalist. I began my HR career when I joined VAC and was asked to become VAC’s HR Assistant. It was the first position in the agency’s history dedicated strictly to HR. Having a background in psychology, the opportunity of working with employees directly intrigued me, and I couldn’t say no! Also, having an opportunity to join a new and growing HR department was exciting, as I could directly affect how this department grew and developed.

  1. What do you like about HR that keeps you in the profession?

I believe that HR is ultimately about helping people in the organization, and I have passion to help people. This philosophy is what keeps me in the profession. It is such a reward to know I am a part of a profession that is helping staff, as well as the company!

  1. What was your biggest HR success? Why was it important to you?

I enjoy HR because I have a chance to change lives. An example would be when I council employees through difficult personal situations, or coach them up on the job. I always try to live my life as positively as I can so others have a source to lean on.

  1. What was your biggest HR failure? What did it teach you?

I believe my biggest failure in my HR journey has been trying to avoid failure. Sometimes, I spent too much time trying to make things perfect, which stifles progress. Coming to terms with this has taught me in order to be successful in anything in life, one must be willing to fail and let it teach you what you need to know.

  1. Who’s one person in your network that readers should know about?

Becky Versluys has been Director of Operations at Safe Passage in DeKalb, IL, for over 20 years. She’s an amazing person! We went through the DeKalb Chamber Leadership Academy together a few years ago and have been close ever since. She does amazing work at Safe Passage, which is a social service nonprofit that provides services to individuals who have been abused either physically, mentally, or otherwise. She’s someone to connect with!

  1. How can people connect with you?

The best way to connect with me is through LinkedIn. My profile can be found at

  1. What’s one thing you think the world should know about you – personal or professional? Have fun with this one!

I love dancing, attending concerts, and shoes! To sum up who I am: I am faith-driven and a passionate person who believes we are all put on this earth to help others!

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