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Our Founder

Betty Louise Smith

Betty grew a passion for serving the community.  As a respiratory therapist, Betty worked at various hospitals including Presbyterian-St. Luke (now Rush) Hospital. In 1987, while working at Ingalls’s hospital, Betty noticed that not only were many Black men dying of HIV, but they were being shunned by family, friends and even pastors.  It was then that she founded, South Side Help Center (SSHC), with the goal of educating the African-American religious community so it could be sensitive to the needs of people impacted by HIV/AIDS. Over the years, her husband Vannish and other family members and friends worked with her to build the success and sustainability of SSHC. Her daughter Vanessa went on to become a youth  HIV program leader and subsequently Chief Operating Officer, while her daughter Valerie  went on to marry and worked with youth development programs  until she passed in 1998 of breast cancer after a long, courageous fight .


Throughout her twenty-one years as executive director of SSHC, Betty was bestowed numerous prestigious accolades and awards, including news articles from major newspapers, like the Sun-times, Tribune, Defender,  Washington Post and a featured article in Essence Magazine. Betty retired in 2008 and passed the torch to her daughter Vanessa. Even though she was battling Alzheimer’s disease, she continued to do television interviews and make appearances in support of South Side Help Center, including being present in September 2017, for the celebration of its 30th Anniversary at the historical Parkway Ballroom.


Betty has a reputation of strength, professionalism, diplomacy and uncompromising advocacy and is known as a woman who laughed heartily, but “took her coffee black…. no sugar, no cream.”  She is also known as an adept storyteller, who could draw in a person’s attention and support, with her sharp wit and mellow voice. Today, Betty’s Legacy, South Side Help Center is the longest existing African-American-led community-based organization addressing HIV/AIDS in the Black community both in the city of Chicago, and State of Illinois.

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