Debra Deneise Smith would be proud. The mother of five Alexandria men spent the greater part of her life taking care of hundreds of Alexandria kids as a daycare provider, and since her untimely passing in 2017, her son has established a foundation that will provide scholarships to deserving students from area high schools.
“My mom sacrificed her dreams. She’d tell me, ‘I had dreams but I had kids and I wanted to provide for them and make sure that they had enough to live out their dreams,” Smith’s son, Alexandrian Elijah Walter Griffin, Sr., told The Zebra. “She loved everybody. She could motivate people, she encouraged us to do better, to go after your dreams. And she always says that, given the chance to do it again, she wouldn’t do anything different because she loved raising kids. She loved being a daycare provider.”
The Debra Deneise Smith Foundation will hold its inaugural awards banquet at the Departmental Progressive Club on Saturday, May 4, and will award $1,000 and $2,000 scholarships to three-to-five seniors from Mount Vernon High School, T.C. Williams High School and Hayfield High School.
Eligible candidates must have a grade point average of 2.75, a record of community volunteerism and participate in extracurricular activities. Interested students should apply through their school guidance counselor.
The deadline to apply is March 29.
Debra Deneise Smith was the longtime companion of Walter Griffin, Sr., an Alexandria basketball hero who led the Parker Gray High School basketball team to the state championships three years in a row – in 1955, ’56 and ’57. His sudden death in 1996 had a deep impact on her, Griffin said, and she was challenged with raising the 14-year-old Griffin and two of his younger brothers while earning an income as a daycare provider from the family’s three bedroom home on Madison St. in Old Town.
“She helped me, my brothers and so many others along the way in the community that I wanted to keep her memory alive with something,” Griffin said. “ “I get it now that I’m a father. So, I understand the struggle of wanting more and having kids and being married – trying to balance going as hard as you can at your job and being married and a great dad.”
Griffin said that her passing at the age of 62 deeply affected him, prompting him to formally establish the foundation in her name as a 501c3 nonprofit.
“The goal is to be able to give the students the grant every year that they are in college. It will go directly to the school and it goes against their tuition,” said Griffin. “I’m just going to give it back to the community.”