Transformation Stories

Jermaine Smith: “There’s nothing else like this”


Jermaine Smith has good manners. “I’m originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, so for me, it’s ‘yes, ma’am’ and ‘no, sir,’ even when I’m speaking with an individual who’s younger than me. I suppose it’s that country background. It’s always been instilled in me to open doors for others.” As a merchandising trainee at Homeboy Industries, Jermaine puts his people skills to good use in the retail store. He has a lot of duties. “In the morning, I count up the register, clean up the store, face the shelves and make sure all the clothes are folded,” he says. “The busiest time is when tours come in. We greet all our visitors and make sure to tidy up afterwards.” 

Jermaine first heard about Homeboy Industries through a friend he’d met in a drug rehabilitation facility. “When it came time for me to leave, he brought me down here. For two months, I started showing up to Homeboy for the employment orientation and Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.” Soon, Jermaine was able to speak with Father Greg. “I never had a solid foundation or worked a twelve-step program. When I tried to do it on my own, I went right back to gangbanging and using drugs and alcohol again. I needed somewhere I could build myself up so I didn’t have to worry that would happen again.”

Father Greg listened and gave Jermaine a start date in the trainee program. After a brief period working in maintenance, Jermaine was moved up to his position in merchandising. Homeboy staff members “told me I had pretty good people skills, always giving out hugs and handshakes. They felt that I could be placed pretty much anywhere, but that I would be utilized best in merchandise. I’ve been here for three months now.” In addition to the work he does in the store, Jermaine also attends classes and support groups at Homeboy Industries. Besides substance abuse counseling, Jermaine attends the Criminals and Gangs Anonymous support group. “[Navigator] Steve Avalos runs that meeting. It’s one of the best classes in the building because it allows us all to hear what the others have gone through. When you hear one peer share something really intimate and the way he’s feeling now, it’s powerful. Steve will kick it off with his personal experiences. He’ll share the things he faces and even the times he stumbles. Hearing him makes it okay for me to share. And hearing me makes it okay for someone else to share.” What’s next for Jermaine? He’s finishing up his final credits for a diploma. “I’m working on taking the CAHSEE [California High school exit exam]. Right after I get my diploma I want to get right back into school.”

Jermaine hopes to become a youth counselor; with the help of Homeboy’s education department, he is looking forward to finding the right program for him. Jermaine adds, “For me, this building and Father Greg are like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. You hear about them, but you never see them. To find out there really is a place and a man who genuinely cares about the people no one else wants to deal with? There’s nothing else like this. I’m graced and blessed and honored to be here. And now I’m comfortable with the transformation I’ve made—the way I dress, the way I carry myself, the way I deal.”


Fatherg

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