LeVon Smoker has rounded out his professional life as a computer specialist with a master's degree of religion from Eastern Mennonite Seminary. Since he has actively questioned the military policies of the U.S., "I really wanted to know about peace theology." (Photo by Michael Sheeler)

Helping people do good work better

On his Messiah College application in the early ‘80s, LeVon Smoker checked computer science as his major (with a pen—the online application being years in the future) “on a whim,” he recalls. “Computers were new, I thought it would be fun, and not a lot of people would be doing it.”

Since his graduation in 1986, Smoker has spent his career supporting people who help others. He currently works as an IT specialist with the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Community Services Board (CSB). The agency, which employs approximately 250 people working at various locations in the area, provides services to individuals and families affected by behavioral health issues or developmental disabilities.

“If I look back over my career, I like helping people who I think are doing good work,” he said. “I may not be going with food shipments to the Horn of Africa, but I’m helping people send those shipments. I’m not doing therapy for someone with substance abuse or addiction, but I’m helping a clinician do that work.”

After Messiah, Smoker spent three years with Goodville Mutual Casualty Company in New Holland, Pennsylvania. Started in 1926, the company was moving into the new digital world and Smoker was laying the infrastructure, using a mid-range IBM and a thick binder-filled cabinet stocked with programming manuals.

“Basically, I looked around and if we needed a program, I wrote it,” he said. “I wrote programs that handled policies, insurance information, and claims. Remember the Internet was there, but not available to everyone, so what you needed, you created yourself.”

In 1990, Smoker joined Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), working in the computer services department in Akron, Pennsylvania. He was there for 12 of the next 13 years. By chance, he became the first computer services manager for Self-Help Crafts, an MCC venture that supported international artisans (Self-Help Crafts eventually became Ten Thousand Villages, which now employs a full-service IT department, including Rick Rutt ‘84, see page 23).

In 2003, LeVon and wife Cindy, who had also worked with MCC, moved to Harrisonburg.  With Cindy working in EMU’s development office (she is its office coordinator), LeVon decided to attend seminary, where he earned a master’s of religion in 2006 and was a stay-at-home dad to their son, then in middle school (now an EMU junior).

“I really wanted to know more about peace theology,” Smoker said. “I had gotten into enough debates and arguments in my church about why we should be embodying this theology rather than making excuses for causing death and destruction that I really wanted to study it,” Smoker said. “I wrote my thesis on the conflict between the American narrative and the Gospel narrative and how words like ‘freedom’ and ‘sacrifice,’ so prevalent in the Gospel narrative, are used and abused in the American nationalistic narrative.”

Smoker says his seminary work has informed his involvement at Park View Mennonite Church more than it has his current position, but it’s clear that he, as well as the many other computer specialists involved with non-profit or not-for-profit work profiled in this issue, seeks values-driven engagement with their professional skills.

His current position as IT specialist is a generic title, Smoker says, that enables him to do a little bit of whatever is needed. Still, his main skill is writing programs for CSB needs. “I write a script, extract the data, convert that data to files for various clinicians who would be interested or affected, write a report,” he said, adding that he takes an occasional turn at the “help desk.”

Smoker calls programming “a sophisticated way to be lazy and look productive,” but this definition is slightly tongue in check. When he finds himself doing something over and over, he says his response is to “write a script so the computer does it for me.”