Elsa Norvella Smith, 97, who spent more than 50 years as a social worker and civic leader helping underserved people in the District, died July 11 of brain disease at the Stoddard Baptist Nursing Home. She was a Washington resident.

Ms. Smith came to Washington in 1940 and a year later began working with the Southeast Neighborhood House, a social service agency. She was a nursery school teacher and later was promoted to supervisor. In 1974, she became coordinator of training and site supervisor of the Title VII Nutrition Program for the Elderly, serving Wards 6C, 7 and 8, and sought to improve the lives of elderly people through the center's various services.

In 1980, she became clinical appointment coordinator at the East of the River Health Center and helped reduce the number of people who failed to show up for appointments. She retired in 1995.

"She was genuinely interested in people, especially people who were underserved," said Pastor Zefferine Wheeler, who worked with her. "She was especially interested in seeing that young people got a good start."

A native of St. Albans, W.Va., Ms. Smith graduated from West Virginia State College with bachelor's degrees in sociology and education. She received a master's degree in education from the University of Pittsburgh and, in 1943, a certificate in social work from Howard University. She did additional studies in social work at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and at Columbia University in New York.

During her early years in the District, she was affiliated with Mount Joy Baptist Church and First Baptist Church in Southeast. She was a founding member of Randall Memorial Baptist Church, serving for more than 20 years as general church superintendent and church clerk.

Ms. Smith also worshiped frequently in her neighborhood at Franklin P. Nash United Methodist Church. At the time of her death, she was honorary mother of Holy Comforter Baptist Church and co-chaired the building fund.

A civic and community leader, Ms. Smith held membership and positions of responsibility in a number of organizations. She was a lifetime member of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs Inc., having served as board member and on the national life membership committee. She also served on the board of directors and on the finance committee of the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA and as president of the Northeastern Federation of Women's Clubs.

Ms. Smith was a member of the National Conference of Social Workers, the National Council of Negro Women, the League of Women Voters and the Urban League. She was founder and executive director of the Harriett Whitney Home for Senior Citizens Inc. She received numerous awards for her community service.

Known for modesty and humility, Ms. Smith counseled and offered support to many people, including her nieces and nephews, said her friend Dorothy Stokes.

She leaves no immediate survivors.

Elsa Norvella Smith also was a nursery school teacher.