Smither Park

Smither Park

Parks that cater to all ages are always good. But a park that caters to the human spirit is simply magnificent, says Dan Phillips, the Huntsville-based designer of Houston's newest green space, Smither Park. The half-acre site near the Orange Show on Munger Street in Houston's East End will also be the city's first folk art-inspired park, featuring mosaics, assemblage and unique structures. 

Folk art — or “self-taught art” as she refers to it — is a passion of The Orange Show Board Trustee Stephanie Smither who conceived the idea for the park to honor her late husband, John H. Smither, a senior partner at Vinson & Elkins law firm. Having also served on the board of The Orange Show Foundation and as president of the Houston Ballet, John Smither believed in the power of the arts to inspire and enrich lives. 

"Art in all forms represents the conscience of society," he is quoted on a pamphlet describing the park. "Where art flourishes, culture flourishes."

His wife says this project is the first thing that has captured her imagination and excitement since John was first diagnosed with lymphoma 10 years ago.It was in Huntsville that the couple also met innovator Dan Phillips while buying his grandparents' 1914 home, and they began a life-long friendship him.

Phillips, who holds a doctorate in education, is also the founder of The Phoenix Commotion, a construction initiative dedicated to showing that creative, artistic homes can be built from recycled and salvaged materials. He has won an award for his innovative housing from the Institute for Social Invention in London, as well as the 2010 Gold Medal, Edison Green Award from Rutgers University and the Environmental Excellence Award from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, also in 2010. 

“I knew I wanted Dan to be involved in some way,” Smither said. “I was talking to him, and I suddenly realized the self-taught art environments all over the world were all the vision of one person — they weren’t built by committee. So I asked him to be the visionary behind this park.” 

“We live in a culture that is geometrical and standardized and straight and square and perfect. That's a product of a magnificent industrialized revolution that is still ongoing,” Phillips said. “In my mind, there is a conspicuous absence of human nuance and gesture in our environment and in the things that we put together.

“Art is one bastion that holds strong with human gesture,” he said. “This park is going to be a product of those primal murmurs that we all have that we’ve somehow lost track of in our fast-paced standardized world. There’s no way to standardize designing with junk. There will be broken pottery and sea shells and plumbing parts and all kinds of things. It’s the whole world of folk art. I want it to be eye candy that touches deep down.”

Donations of found and salvaged objects are already starting to accumulate at the foot of the park’s signage, Smither said. Anyone who wishes may contribute durable and decorative items such as pottery and china, keys, costume jewelry, marbles, colored or patterned tiles, buttons, interesting metal objects, drawer pulls and knobs, perfume bottles, metal toys, kitchen utensils, brass and copper items, or perfume or other colorful glass bottles — but no beer or wine bottles. Monetary donations can be made via 

As much as the park honors her husband, Smither also wants to encourage others to pay tribute to their loved ones in the park, whether through a financial contribution, purchase of park fixtures or on the 400-foot memory wall that will run along the back of the site. She said she hopes to engage all nine of her grandchildren in the development of the park — including Amon, 4, who insisted a hopscotch court be incorporated into the design. Other family-oriented features will include swings, a 12-foot coin-rolling tower and a meditation garden with a water wall that uses recycled rain water. A serpentine tunnel leading to a mosaic-covered amphitheatre at the end of the park will provide an ideal aisle for brides who want to hold their weddings in the park, or for Quinceañeras.

Architect Ed Eubanks and Steve Goodchild of Goodchild Builders have donated their expertise to bring the park to fruition, and completion is expected in the fall of 2012. 

Girls, Inc. Luncheon

Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girly Girl Culture, will be the keynote speaker Thursday, May 5 at the 15th Annual Strong, Smart and Bold Celebration Luncheon. The big event, presented by Girls, Inc. of Greater Houston, is being held at the InterContinental Houston Hotel. Check-in and networking begin at 11:30 a.m., followed by the luncheon and program from 12 noon to 1:30 p.m.

Orenstein has appeared recently on Frontline, The Today Show and Good Morning America and her book was featured by O Magazine as a must-read for 2011.

The dynamic mother-daughter team of Ellen Cohen, former state representative, and Marcie Zlotnik, co-founder and chair of StarTexas Power, are the 2011 honorary luncheon co-chairs.

Ellen Cohen will receive the Strong, Smart and Bold Award, which is presented annually to a Houston woman who has followed her own path, dedicated herself to education, pursued her dreams and achieved her goals while also giving back to the community.

StarTex Power will receive the Corporate Vision Award, which is presented annually to a corporate entity that promotes advancement opportunities for women throughout the company and furthers opportunities for women and girls through its support of youth serving organizations.

Deserving high school girls will be awarded college scholarships valued up to $2500 from the Girls Inc. Scholars and Awards Program. The program’s goal is to inspire girls to succeed in school and to consider a broad range of career possibilities.

Lisa Malosky will serve as the Mistress of Ceremonies. Frances Castaneda Dyess, president of the East End Chamber of Commerce, is the luncheon chair. The annual Strong, Smart and Bold Celebration Luncheon is the most significant fundraiser for Girls Inc. of Greater Houston. Funds raised allow the organization to continue providing and implementing researched-based programs that encourage girls between the ages of six and 18 to fulfill their dreams.

To purchase tables or individual tickets, please call the Girls Inc. office at 713-802-2260.

Success & Independence

Parents are tasked with the incredible job of raising their children to be healthy, functioning adults who positively contribute to the world. At times that can be difficult, particularly when kids are in pain, hurting themselves or acting out in a way that severely disrupts their lives and the way the family functions. The Center for Success and Independence is a local agency that assists families who need professional help to work through difficult times.

The Center for Success and Independence “transforms adolescents in crisis into productive members of society, helping families turn despair into dreams” and serves youth ages 12-17 who are suffering with substance abuse or behavioral and emotional issues and those struggling to cope with trauma, including abuse, neglect and abandonment. 

The Center was founded in 1999 by Robert Woods and Dr. Marylou Erbland, who (while treating adolescents) recognized the need for an intensive residential mental health and substance abuse treatment center in Houston. To date, The Center, licensed by the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services and the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, has served nearly 900 youth and their families. The long-term program is different from hospital-based programs; patients are required to stay 90 days, with most completing treatment in six to nine months. They have daily classroom instruction and 25-30 hours of therapy per week. 

The staff includes three Ph.D. level professionals, therapists, mental health techs, substance abuse counselors and nurses who work together to provide the best care for the patients. Woods, the executive director, has more than 20 years experience in the mental health field, and Erbland, the clinical director, is a psychologist with 20 years of private practice experience. Administrative Director Karl Webster has more than 25 years of counseling and treatment experience.

In addition to individual therapy and substance abuse counseling, The Center uses dialectical behavior therapy, and each student is placed in a dialectical behavior therapy group. 

“In dialectical behavior therapy, kids and families learn specific skills that help them with dealing with stress, regulating their emotions, improving their interpersonal skills and learning how to balance by making decisions and setting goals,” said Erbland. 

Because a high percentage of patients are identified as having experienced trauma, resiliency groups educate them about the  effects of trauma; coping with feelings, triggers and resulting impulses and bouncing back. In psychotherapy groups, kids learn to express themselves more openly and support the fellow members of their group. 

“The therapies fit together to target whatever behaviors or difficulties a client has been having and the treatment is then tailored to what their target behaviors are,” said Erbland. 

Family involvement in treatment is a founding principle of The Center. 

“One of the predictors of success of the kids when they leave is families being involved in their treatment, understanding some of the family dynamics and also being able to support and help their kids when they come home,” said Erbland. 

Each patient is assigned a family therapist and has at least three hours of family therapy per week. Multi-family groups bring kids and parents together to discuss family issues and how they interact with each other. A parent education group is also offered. Through therapy, the family learns the same skills the kids are taught and has a local support group so they can have others to lean on — just as the kids have someone to lean on in treatment. 

Though treatment plans are individual, there are common goals all patients work towards, including learning to work as part of a team, resolving family relationships and learning to deal with stress. Common treatment goals are purposed for patients to determine how to improve their situation, return to their homes and communities and achieve their personal goals. 

The structure of the program teaches patients to connect their behavior to the outcome by rewarding them for appropriate behavior. Through this, Erbland says, they begin to feel motivated to succeed and are able to gradually move back into their family and community. 

Many of the visible changes in patients are ultimately behavioral.

“By the time the kids leave here, they know how to regulate their feelings, know what skills they need to use during a tough time,” said Woods. “Patients learn to respond to anger, stress or pain without acting out aggressively. The kids becomes a little more understanding, more nurturing. They learn how to communicate more openly with their parents and their peers,” Woods added. 

Eighty-six percent of patients successfully complete the treatment program. Care doesn’t end when clients leave The Center. Many stay in touch with their therapists and counselors. To assist in reintegration to home and the community, case managers provide services to the family for 12 months after the patient completes the program. 

For more information about The Center for Success and Independence or additional resources on behavioral and emotional disorders that may be affecting your family, visit or call 713-426-4545.

Just the Assistant

Tis a rags-to-riches story in the making, I tell you! Me:  the envelope stuffer, the errand runner, the sassy assistant who is much more interested in clothes than the mortgage industry (shame my bosses are mortgage bankers and not fashion designers). Me: famous. That’s right, dear readers, famous!  All because the publisher of this fab magazine found my mortgage blog and asked if I’d write for you all here.

“Mortgage blog?” you ask. “But, I thought you care nothing of mortgages!”  And, you are correct.  However, I know there are loads of women out there like my girlfriends – wicked smart, super talented, with little knowledge of mortgages or the home buying process.

So, imagine me in my floral flats perched on the bottom rung of the corporate ladder with a megaphone at my lips, sharing all I can about home loans. To be fair, I warn you that none of my information will come from my own brain. My brain is too full, overflowing even, with make-up tips (like, to get that cat eye look, draw your eyeliner into a checkmark on the upper lid) to have room for boring mortgage information. Hence, any real scoop comes from my bosses.

I work for the best mortgage bankers in the industry. My two bosses are the kindest, smartest guys anyone can turn to for mortgage related needs, and I am proud to pour their coffee every day.  

I recently picked their brains (which are not full of make-up tips; rather mortgage tips) to find out what’s up with the Houston housing market, what we can expect in the next year and how interest rates tie in.

Thankfully, the bosses gave me good news. Turns out, Houston is a lot like Katie Holmes right now. Despite the oddities surrounding her life, she’s all cute as ever strolling down the street in her slouchy chic outfits and big sunglasses. The chick is going places. (Please Katie, don’t start boozing it up in public before press time because it would totally kill my analogy.)  And Houston, though part of a larger, not-so-glam economy, is strolling down the street in chic outfits too! Our home values are expected to rise in the next year, and everyone will look at us like they do Katie and only wish they could be so hot.  

It’s likely that at this point of reading my article, my bosses have broken down crying at their desks, wondering where they went wrong with me and why can’t I just once talk about mortgages without talking about fashion, as well. Never mind them! On to interest rates.

Rates are still well below historical averages. I can’t put an actual rate here in case one of you leaves your copy of this magazine in a cab and some loon finds it, reads the rate as a quote and sues me. A lawsuit would simply ruin my complexion. 

Anyway, rates are expected to rise in the next year, meaning people who get home loans today will likely pay less interest on that money than the same loan taken out a year from now. In the past few weeks, our office phones have been ringing consistently with clients ready to buy houses. They are taking advantage of the perfect scenario we have in front of us — low rates, a strong local economy and promising future home values.  

If you decide to go house shopping this weekend, call me. We’ll wear big sunglasses over perfectly drawn eyeliner as we wander about the charming homes of this city. Tell Tom we’ll be late for dinner.

Christina Ledbetter is a new columnist for Houston Woman Magazine. She works as an assistant for a local mortgage company. She blogs for her company on issues relating to her job. You can find her delightful and entertaining blog at

Goal Setting

Early this spring, we asked our Facebook friends about goal setting and how important the process was to them. The responses came pouring in. As you’ll read here, all seemed to be in agreement: Goal setting is vital to one’s success!

"Goal setting is absolutely important! Living or running a business with no goal is like going on a road trip with no destination.  There is no way to know how long it will take, how much it will cost or if you will end up out of gas at a dead end in the middle of nowhere!”
Jeanne SimsOwner
Minuteman Press Post Oak

"Setting goals defines a road map of your hopes, dreams, desires and expectations. By setting and achieving goals we find that our work and personal life is more exciting and meaningful. I recently read a motivational piece that expressed, "Most people aim at nothing in life and hit it with amazing accuracy.” If we don’t specify exactly what we want, we have no reason to complain about what we get or where we find ourselves.”
Robin Young-Ellis, CSSC
Owner, Robin Young & Co.

"For me, setting goals has been like a road map to the life I envision. This practice has helped me accomplish things I once thought were impossible.When my husband and I became parents some 27 years ago, our financial condition was not the best and we lived very modestly. Our beautiful little girl motivated us in new and powerful ways, most importantly, to set clearly defined and ambitious goals. We established a savings account for her education from the time she was born. When she was about five years old, we met with a broker from Merrill Lynch and asked how much money it would take for her to be able to attend one of the best colleges in the U.S., and how much we would need to set aside on a monthly or yearly basis to achieve that goal. Year after year, her account grew and so did her confidence — knowing that education was important to us and that she could attend any school she wanted. During her senior year, she applied early admission to Harvard and was accepted. By setting goals, sticking to them and focusing on our potential, instead of our limitations, we were able to achieve the impossible dream"
Irma Diaz-Gonzalez, Owner
Employment & Training Centers

"Goal setting is an absolute must. We have goals for individual projects, such as a game show we had to create and facilitate in three days. We have monthly goals that have to be set to some regard a year in advance by making calls to corporations, schools and other groups and associations. We have ethical goals both for ourselves and as an industry. We have long time projects, such as booking national events like the fund raiser for Festac where we are booking Donell Jones and En Vogue and coordinating all their requirements and facilitating the stage management of them and five African acts. Something like this has to be planned for many months in advance. And there are so many people involved and so many intricate details that each step has to be goal set. We also have a reality TV show pilot that will be shooting soon. This goal is 10  years in the making and detail had to constantly change for it to become a reality. Victoria Barclay, the owner of Best Entertainers, is a great believer in letting her staff imagine big, setting goals and then being flexible in the achievement of those goals."
Louis Allen Epstein
Agent, Best Entertainers

"As a young professional, goal setting is vital in keeping my life on track. Goal setting is what gets you through school, finds you that perfect guy and buys you that new pair of shoes. While specific goals may not always get you the outcome you expected, keeping goals for a certain quality of life and an abundance of happiness simplify my life and keep me always looking to a bright future."
Julianna Watkins
Marketing Manager, Compucycle

"I believe the power in goal setting is the declaration of an intention. Once that is done, the necessary tasks make themselves known organically. The challenge is to develop the awareness and exercise the discretion to stay the course. By doing so you prevent getting distracted by tasks that are not on the critical path to reaching your goal."
Stephen Dynako

"It is imperative to know what you want, and where you want to go; but without a goal/plan, how will you get there? I believe it is also important your goals include your professional, personal and family, as well. Your family needs to be as much of a priority as your business; when they know they are included, they are happy to support the goals."
Sharon Hart, Realtor

"When I have encouraged goal-making to others, I have always used the analogy of taking a trip. The goal is the destination, and once that is established, you can then determine the direction you will take, the mode of transportation, what to pack, how to prepare and how long it should take. Knowing where you want to go gives you the ability to gauge progress. Keeping your eye on the goal, the destination, gives you the perspective that helps you get through the tough spots along the way, because you keep your eye on the long term and are not discouraged by the current problem of the day. When we do not have goals, we expend the same amount of energy and time, but without direction. We do not enjoy the satisfaction of “arriving,” and we end up discouraged by the little obstacles that life sends us."
Kathleen Vossler, Attorney

"In our work with groups and individuals on career planning, we stress that the basis of any plan is goals. I have always been goal-driven, and when I was young I created a handful of “By The Time I Am 30” goals. When I was 29, I realized I had not met one of the goals - a salary metric. I set my mind to it, and before my birthday I had accomplished the goal. Accomplishing the goal was easy once I set my mind to it. The hard part was setting my next set of long-term goals. When you are young, 10 years seems so far away, and it is easy to create lofty goals and reach for the stars. As you get older, goals become harder to create because experience guides you to be cautious. But, if you don’t push yourself, you’ll never achieve those crazy things that seem so far out of reach."
Danielle Forget, President
825 Basics, LLCHouston

"I’ve been goal setting for 10 years. Sometimes, everything goes as planned. Sometimes, things don’t work out. Even in a recession, written goals give me a compass to keep me focused. I’m a professional speaker; I teach people how to set goals. I  believe it is extremely important."
Angela Huffmon, Speaker
Pearland, TX

"I also think setting daily goals is what moves you towards the long-term ones. My main daily goal is to be grateful, try to stay positive and do the best I can. Sometimes in life things just don't work out the way we want them to but, at least, you can look back and say hey, I tried my best, which is what really counts!"
Carly Norausky 
Marketing Manager, TMC

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