Since completing the Addiction Studies program at Graceland in the late 1990s, THURSTON S. SMITH, MPA, LAC-S, CCS, has had an eventful life and career, which was recently recognized through a series of awards and public service citations.
“For me, it all began in South Carolina,” Smith said, before going on to detail his extensive work for the federal government, military service, academic studies, and career in the counseling field. Smith spent over 20 years working for Veterans Health Administration (VA) in many different mental health, administrative, and leadership roles before retiring in 2018. His career in federal service also included employment for Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) in Washington, D.C.
Smith has over 25 years of experience in the behavioral health counseling profession, with specialties in substance abuse, mental health, training, and public policy. Near the beginning of his career, he joined NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals, which led him to join Graceland’s Addiction Studies program. “Graceland was one of the few academic institutions at that time providing education in addiction counseling,” he remembers. “NAADAC was the predecessor to my admission to Graceland. I really enjoyed the professional networking that the program provided, and was thoroughly impressed by Graceland’s seasoned academic instructors, who were all current practitioners in the field.”
In 2021, that same organization that helped him discover Graceland honored him with the Mel Shulstad Professional of the Year Award, which recognizes an individual who has made outstanding and sustained contributions to the advancement of the addiction counseling profession. “It was phenomenal for this organization to place such value on the work I’ve done over my career,” Smith said.
The NAADAC honor was Smith’s third major honor in as many years. In 2019, he was awarded the Tennessee Governor’s Volunteer of the Year Award. Then in 2020, immediately following the completion of a three-year federal advisory committee service obligation for the U.S. Treasury Department’s Taxpayer Advocacy Panel, he received the Presidential Volunteer Service Award, with a special Gold designation, given his over 500 hours of service in this capacity.
Smith continues to serve the community from his current home in Memphis, Tennessee, where he is the Community Outreach Coordinator and Associate Minister at the New Salem Missionary Baptist Church, and is now pursuing his Doctorate in Ministry in Community Wellness and Social Justice through Memphis Theological Seminary. “I have always had a strong desire to serve others, yet I was historically ambivalent about organized religion,” said Smith. “It is through growth and maturity that I’ve come to this place and am now deeply committed to doing the Lord’s work on so many levels.”