May 27, 2009

We all need a “Safe Harbor”

Posted in Between Us column, Relationships, Television at 10:30 pm by dinaheng

While it may take a village to raise a child, it took a husband and wife who were willing to postpone retirement to turn around the lives of more than a few troubled teenage boys, using strict discipline, genuine affection and sail boats.


Doug and Robbie Smith, founders of the Safe Harbor Boys Home in Jacksonville, Fla.,  are celebrating the 25th anniversary this year of their labor of love, a residential and educational facility on the waterfront that has helped more than 800 at-risk boys, ages 15 to 17, and their families.


The teens, who come from all around the country, are often juvenile delinquents, fatherless,  or have lost one or both parents to death. Living on boats, the young men are given a safe, stable and structured home as they learn seamanship, maritime skills, and study for a high school diploma.


The story of how the Smiths came to parent these troubled teens is at the heart of “Safe Harbor,” a Hallmark Channel Original Movie based on the couple’s real life commitment that  premieres Saturday, May 30 at 9 p.m. Eastern. 


In the film, Nancy Travis, who co-stars on the TBS comedy “The Bill Engvall Show,” plays Robbie Smith, a child counselor who’s a month away from a planned retirement of exploring the world with her husband (played by Treat Williams) on their sailboat. The couple’s plans are waylaid when a judge asks them to look after some troubled boys until room opens up for them in juvenile hall.


As a few days turns into a few months, the couple help the teens to find their footing, and what the boys give back leads to a new passion and purpose in life for the Smiths. 


“We all plan our lives to the finest detail, and you never know what’s going to come along to change your path,” Travis says. “When these troubled boys came into their lives, the Smiths realized this was their destiny. Robbie doesn’t have her own children, but there’s a wish in her to have children.”


Travis says she hopes the film inspires audiences to look for ways to help others around them.


“We look at the big picture, and it seems so overwhelming, but the smallest gesture means something,” Travis says. “We’re all so self-involved, and don’t always look beyond ourselves. There are opportunities all around us, from giving things we don’t want or need, to people who need them, to getting our hands dirty — or clean — by helping others.”


She notes that people often fear helping delinquent teens because they wonder if they can handle caring for someone who is troubled. People wonder, will the teenager pose a physical danger to me? Can I really help this person? How much can I give without losing a part of myself?


As the film shows, all of us need a safe harbor in life. For some, that means safety from physical, sexual or emotional abuse. For others, it means having someone who believes in you, no matter how much you doubt yourself. For all of us, it means finding the place where we are loved.


“So many of our youth end up going down the wrong path because they don’t have somebody to say, ‘We believe in you,’ “ says Travis, the mother of two. “Self-worth is a basic human need. Young people can get lost, and it doesn’t take that much to help them find their way.


“Doug and Robbie believed in these boys, and said you’re worth more than the path you’re on. They ended up finding that starting this haven fulfilled a dream they didn’t even know they had.”


Helping others often has a way of doing that.




  1. Eileen Chilson said,

    I just finished watching the movie. I loved it and feel inspired to help foster children. Thans!

    • dinaheng said,

      How great is that! Am sure there are lots of foster kids who need your help. Take care…

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