Service with a smile
A jack of all trades on the Charity Ride, Charles Smith completes his duties with a big smile and an even bigger heart for helping kids
Before there were ever any kids on campus at Victory Junction, Charity Rider Charles Smith knew it was going to be a special place. As part of the construction team that built the elaborate, race-themed campus for Victory Junction, Charles was moved by what he was helping to create – a place for children with chronic and serious medical conditions to experience magical camping experiences and activities in a medically-safe environment. “Boy, it sure would be nice having a job here and working at a place like this,” Charles expressed to his supervisor at the time, Tracy Hedrick. To which, Tracy most definitely agreed.
Once the construction was complete and Camp opened in 2004, Tracy put in an application to work there. However, he didn’t get hired. “We thought there went our dream of working at Victory Junction,” said Charles. But things took a turn for the better when Tracy received a phone call from Camp in 2006, asking him to be the Facilities Director at Victory Junction. Shortly after, Tracy brought Charles on board as the Maintenance Manager – overseeing all the maintenance needs required at the 84-acre campus. “Anything that breaks, I try to fix,” says Charles. “We do everything we can to fix issues in-house.”
Because he’s a maintenance manager, Charles isn’t heavily involved in the day-to-day camp programs for the kids at Victory Junction. But he gets to watch the fun they have every day and sometimes he has the opportunity to interact with them. “Say someone’s wheelchair breaks down or something needs repair in an activity setting, I’ll get to talk with the kids then,” says Charles. “It’s always fun seeing and visiting with the kids. They always want a ride on our utility carts, so every once in a while, we’ll let one or two hop in for spin and brighten their day.”
But he always tries to catch the kids on “Stage Day” when he can during each week of camp at Victory Junction. Stage Day is like a talent show, except no one is competing. Everyone just has fun dancing, singing, etc. “They get to do whatever they want to do on stage and it’s so cool to see their confidence,” says Charles.
Similarly, Charles gets to feel like a kid at Camp each year when he goes on the Ride. In 2011, Charles was asked to help on the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America Team for the first time. He’s been back every year since. “On my first Ride, I was just amazed at how they found all the places that we visited and the roads we took,” said Charles. “Like how did they find all these nooks and crannies and all these back roads? I thought it was so cool.”
Every year, Charles dedicates more than three weeks of his time to help with the Ride. He leaves a week prior to everyone else to drive one of the Ride’s trucks, hauling supplies and equipment to the Ride’s starting location. Then, he unloads and organizes the supplies once he arrives. During the Ride, he has two very important jobs: driving the Charity Ride Pace Car, which leads the entire Ride, and selling merchandise at each pit stop along the route. After the Ride ends, Charles packs up remaining equipment and drives everything back to North Carolina. In addition to these tasks, Charles acts as a representative for Victory Junction and regularly pitches in wherever help is needed, and he does it all with a huge smile plastered across his face.
“I guess you could say that representing Victory Junction on the Ride means a lot because I’m able to give back to Camp – a place that’s given me so much,” says Charles. “That’s the way I look at it.” Some people might say Charles’s role on the Ride is just a job, but Charles really doesn’t think of it that way. “I feel like a kid coming to Camp when it’s time for me to go on the Charity Ride,” he says. “I’m going to a place I’ve never been before in my life, seeing different things and interacting with new people. So, it’s very similar to the kids who come to camp at Victory Junction.”
If you’ve ever met Charles, then his positive outlook should come as no surprise to you. He’s never not wearing his million-dollar smile, and in any conversation, he never has anything negative to say. He puts his positive attitude first in any situation, especially at work at Victory Junction. “I love everything about my job. I just love working,” says Charles. “People might find that hard to believe, but it’s the truth.”
Q+A with Charles Smith:
1. What do you look forward to most about the Ride each year?
“Seeing Morgan and Ginny. That’s the truth. They work so hard during the year and not everyone sees that. And I love getting to be a part of helping them bring everything together before, during and after the Ride.”
2. What is your favorite thing about the Ride?
“I probably wouldn’t be able to go to these places if it wasn’t for the Ride. It’s not that I couldn’t go on a trip outside of the Ride, but I would never be able to find or know about half the places that we go to because they’re so off the beaten path. It’s unreal.”
3. How would you describe the people on the Ride?
“Everybody on the Ride is one big family. It’s like brothers and sisters and mamas and papas. That’s what it’s like.”
4. If you could describe the kids at Victory Junction in one word, what would it be?
“They’re just awesome. They really are.”