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Evonda Thomas-Smith, Ph.D. is leaving her position as the City’s Director of Health and Human Services. Her last day will be March 22, and friends and colleagues have organized a farewell party for her at 2 p.m. that day in the Parasol Room of the Civic Center.
“I love this community,” Dr. Thomas-Smith told the RoundTable, “and this community loves me back.”
Dr. Thomas-Smith has worked for the City since 2005, when she was hired as the City’s Division Chief of Personal Health Services. In January 2008, she became the Public Health Director for the Evanston Health Department. She is now the Director of the City’s Health and Human Services Department. She has received many honors, including the YWomen Leadership Ward in 2016. In 2018, she was deemed a Health Equity Awakened Leadership Fellow.
“WOW!” stepped into Evanston in 2007. First called “Women Out Walking,” the six-week program encouraged women to walk regularly – alone or in groups – and keep track of their progress. Now “We’re Out Walking” is a staple of spring in the community.
Between December 2009 and January 2010, when the H1N1 flu virus was spreading quickly – and dangerously for the old and the young – Dr. Thomas-Smith implemented a Citywide vaccination program. “We vaccinated about 13,000 people in three weeks via our mass community clinics.”
Three years later, in 2013, when the residents of Evanston approved a referendum to dissolve the government of Evanston Township, the General Assistance and Emergency Assistance programs was placed under the Health Department’s wing.
“The integration of Township services is also a great memory and win for the participants,” Dr. Thomas-Smith said. “They have forever changed me with their love.”
Of all her accomplishments for the Evanston community, Dr. Thomas-Smith told the RoundTable she is “most proud of the private public partnership that established the First Federally Qualified Health Center for Evanston, Erie Evanston Skokie Health Center. They are now expanding and will be the largest FQHC ever.”
Ms. Thomas-Smith also said, “I appreciate graduating from Leadership Evanston, as I have lasting professional and personal friendships with many from my class. It is truly the phenomenal partnerships that have really aide us in getting things done in this community.”
Lost to the Health Department through budget cuts in the last few years are the Assistant Health Director, Public Health Educator, Vital Records Clerk and a vacant Victim Services position. (See story on Victim Services, page 16).
Jay Terry, former Director of Health and Human Services for the City, said, “When I hired Evonda, I said to many of my colleagues that I had just hired my successor, I thought that highly of her. I consider that hire in the ‘Mt. Rushmore’ of my appointments. She has taken a lot of curve-balls with the reductions [from budget cuts] and done the best she could.”
Asked what she plans to do next, Ms. Thomas-Smith, who commutes daily from South Holland, said “Rest – for a while.”
To her successor, not yet named, Ms. Thomas-Smith offers this advice: “Hold true to your convictions, hold true to the integrity of Public Health practices, really commit to advancing health equity. Trust your intuition, build rapport with community stakeholders and always seek the opportunities that exist in this community. Lastly, I encourage the next leader to mentor and give back to up-and-coming leaders. Empower the next generation at all costs. Leave a legacy.”