Anthony Smallwood is a firm believer in the famous line from the film Steel Magnolias which states, “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” He says, “It is very cliché, but has brought me through many of the challenges and misfortunes in my life. And, God knows I should be Hercules by now.”
“Equip yourself with as much knowledge as you can, and then just jump in with both feet and figure it out as you go.”
As the community engagement manager for AVOL Kentucky, whose mission is “to collaborate with communities to end HIV in the Commonwealth,” these last few months have been especially challenging. In this position, Anthony oversees volunteer coordination, event planning, and assists with donor management. In the past, each of these roles has involved close contact with the public, which Anthony relishes.
Of course, the pandemic has made this extremely difficult. He explains, “My title is community engagement manager. Now tell me how are you supposed to ‘engage’ the community when you have COVID-19 restrictions. Everyone knows me as a hugger, and not being able to reach out and hug people has been hard.”
Despite the recent changes, Anthony finds his job incredibly fulfilling. In his own words, “The most rewarding part of going to work each day is knowing I am making a difference in the lives of people who may never know who I am or what I do. But, still, I am making a difference in their lives.”
Anthony is involved with several local charities, including the Imperial Court of Kentucky. You can also find Anthony onstage as his alter ego Helena Handbasket, who he describes as “a combination of all the strengths from all the important and powerful females I have known.” Helena performs around town, both singing and lip synching, often with the proceeds benefitting charity. She also has her own comedy YouTube channel. Of her, Anthony adds, “She is a cartoon with a message to love yourself. You should talk to her… she’s always happy to talk about herself.”
If there is another adage Anthony ascribes to, it is “looking back at my life, I’ll only regret what I never tried.” So, his advice to others would be; “equip yourself with as much knowledge as you can, and then just jump in with both feet and figure it out as you go. You will fail at some things but you won’t look back on your life and say ‘I wish I had’ or ‘maybe I could have.’”
This attitude has led to deep gratitude. Anthony considers himself very fortunate to have shared his life with his husband, Dean, for 29 years. The couple has one doggie-child, Mitchell.
He also feels blessed to live in the Bluegrass. Anthony states, “Sometimes I drive out Paris Pike, and some of the roads off of it, and I am astounded by the natural beauty that exists in the world and it makes me so thankful that I live here. I wasn’t raised with all of that, so I’m grateful that it can be part of my life now just by taking a drive.” •