Why Detroit’s Courtney Smith is a Champion for Today’s Youth

Courtney Smith knows firsthand the challenges of housing insecurity.

Having persevered through her own moments of homelessness more than a decade ago, Courtney Smith utilizes her personal experiences to be an agent of change. With resilience and compassion, she’s breaking the cycle of poverty in Detroit by way of her organization, the Detroit Phoenix Center.

On any given night, approximately 5,000 Detroiters are faced with the gripping realities of poverty and homelessness. Twenty-five percent of them happen to be youth. Thankfully, there’s the Detroit Phoenix Center.

Serving youth aged 13-24, the center provides a safe, inclusive and nurturing environment by giving access to the daily necessities one needs to survive. DPC even goes beyond those services to provide teens with career readiness and educational workshops so the may live productive lives.

“I serve incredible resilient strong teens that want to succeed,” Smith proudly shared with TNJ.  “They have so much to offer to the world.”

Courtney Smith

The Detroit Phoenix Center is the first and only Asset Based Resource Center in the city of Detroit. It’s unique vision and mission captured the hearts of many making the center a completely volunteer-driven organization. In less than 18 months of its launch, DPC had partnered with neighboring faith-based communities and endowed a memorial scholarship fund in memory of Smith’s brother.


Though life-changing and impactful, Smith admits her work is often challenging and the demand is hard to handle. In recent weeks, Detroit faced one of the coldest winters seen in over two decades – creating an influx of teens in need of shelter.

“That was hard to handle,” Smith said. “My faith plays a huge part in why I do the work that I do, especially during those hard moments. I’m intentional about tapping into my village for help.”

Prior to launching the center, Smith worked as a task force coordinator for a national organization. That commitment to advocacy and service has earned her many accolades, including being a double time recipient of the Spirit of Detroit Award, and grantee of Comcast NBCUniversal’s Social Impact Award.

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For Smith, her desired legacy is simple. She wants to end the cycle of poverty and wants DPC to serve as the prototype for others. But for now, she’ll measure success by the many lives she’ll touch.

“Success now would be to serve holistically so that our young people can exit homelessness and break the cycle,” she said. “Eliminating the need for the program, that would be the success.”

Smith is indeed a rising distinguished leader, a champion for today’s youth – a fearless leader. She’s selfless and determined – she’s exactly what Detroit needs.

“When I take Courtney out of the picture and look at the needs, I tap into the fact that I’m the vessel being used,” she said. “And when I notice that, I’m even more committed to the cause.”

Learn how you can help the Detroit Phoenix Center here.