Meet Noelene Smith, the founder and visionary behind the Baby Institute.


Ms. Smith’s humble background growing up as a child of poverty in Jamaica, greatly influenced her and made her appreciate the importance of education. As youngster, she would spend summers with her "Aunt Evelyn," one of the island country’s highly influential educators. As an impressionable adolescent, she was fascinated that her aunt would also teach the elderly, who would walk great distances to learn from the woman. From those summers with her aunt, Ms. Smith realized the valuable life lesson that you're never too old learn.

At age 13, she emigrated to the United States with her mother and four siblings. In White Plains, Ms. Smith was able to receive the formal education not accessible to her in Jamaica. She ultimately came to Albany in 1979 to attend Albany and has lived were ever since.

Ms. Smith has an impressive 30-year background in social work with the Mobile Community Response Team of Albany County and in case management for New York State. She traces her connection to the underserved communities of Albany to a college internship with the Salvation Army, an experience that exposed her to a different type of struggle-that of those who live in the inner city.

When her oldest daughter entered second grade, the literacy gap and inequity in education became apparent. The startling statistics influenced her to step up to better prepare the next generation for success. In the 1990s, she created a parent advocacy program at Harriet Gibbons High School, an alternative school within the Albany city school district, which no longer operates. In 2010, she founded the Baby institute. 

A number of years ago, as Noelene Smith was working on a new model for early childhood literacy and parenting skills for low-income parents and children in Albany, she observed a mother pulling her 2-year-old son across Livingston Avenue in Arbor Hill. The child, with much smaller legs, couldn't possibly match his mother's longer stride. Ms. Smith had an epiphany that would come to define her innovative program from that point forward.

 "Parents don't understand that their children are not little adults; they have expectations of children that are un realistic." she points out. Today, when she encounters parents exhibiting similar behavior, she'll frequently approach them and say, "If you want them to cross the street as fast as you, you're going to have to pick them up." And then she will encourage them to attend the Baby Institute, her grassroots non-profit organization. Ms. Smith, who holds a master's in social work (MSW) from the University at Albany, spends day and night working in with parents and their preschool children Albany's Arbor Hill, West Hill and the South End. The goal is to give them a much brighter future by teaching them literacy and language skills and empowering parents to become their child's first teacher and advocate. 

And her help doesn't stop there; frequently she accompanies her parents, current or past, to unscramble a rent problem or to enroll their children in pre-k. She rarely misses an Albany School Board meeting, where she advocates strenuously for the best for Albany's children. And there's not a community festival or street fair in the city that she doesn't attend to spread the word about the BabyInstitute-a free program that comes with transportation, if needed, and always a solid healthy meal or two.