Woman who was once homeless for years now helping others experiencing homelessness

"Everything that happened to me, I turn it into fuel, to fuel my passion for helping others in my situation," the 23-year-old said.


A Nebraska woman is using her past experiences to help those in need.

Each week, 23-year-old Manni Smith fills bags with baby wipes, food, water and hand sanitizer, all things people who don't have a home desperately need.

She then delivers the care packages around Omaha. Her giving heart comes from knowing a similar struggle.

“There was a time when I was homeless and hungry and scared, and I wanted help that wasn’t always there,” she said.

Smith grew up with two siblings and her disabled mother in a home where she experienced sexual and physical abuse by someone she trusted.

“We were homeless living out of a van and sharing dollar-menu meals, trying to make that stretch among us,” Smith said.

She said they lived out of a van for years, but when she was 18, she began working at Air Force One Carpet Cleaning. She’s worked there ever since.

“What I first started with was the telephones," she said. "I would answer client calls, assist with scheduling appointments, just everything you would expect with customer service."

After seeing what the company was already doing in the community, Smith wanted to take it further.

“Their Purple Heart organization, what they do for the Steven’s Center and donations they’ve made throughout the community,” Smith said. “It inspired me to do more, so I went to my bosses and said we should do more, and they were happy to do so.”

Aside from charitable donations, the company gives Smith money every week to go out in the streets and make meaningful connections.

“She has such a big heart. I’ve seen her in tears where it has pained her to hear of somebody in a certain situation. She goes out and does right by people that she has never even met,” operations manager James La Furla said.

“A lot of people who hear of the past I’ve had would say I have every right to be angry and I deserve to be mad at the world,” Smith said.

Instead, she is a positive light in the community.

“That hatred for everything that happened to me, I turn that into fuel, to fuel my passion for helping others,” she said.

Watch the video above to learn more about this story.