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.”


Janet Contreras: Connecting the Dots

Damond Johnson: “We Were at Homeboy for the Same Reason”

Connie Cordero: The Point of Doing Well

Miguel Avila: “I Don’t Want to Let Myself Down”

Erika Vargas: The Small Word That Means Everything

Brazil Jackson: “laugh a little harder, live a little longer”

Marcus Avery: “It’s Family”

Orsy Jerez: Finding an Open Door

Valerie Copeland: “Homeboy is a place where it is ok to be myself”

Will Lopez: “I’ve had my second chance here—and my third, and my fourth”

James Horton: Compassion in Action

Victor Key: A Chance at Happiness

Gordy Abriel: Stepping Into a Brighter Future

Christy Stillwell: From Victim to Advocate

Javier Chavez: Mind, Body, and Spirit

Carlitos Asegura: Who are we? Homeboys! How long will we run? Forever!

Javier Medina: Made from Scratch

David Andrade: “Do it for yourself”

Brandy Harris: “Recognize who you are”

Ruth Butler: “Now I love my life”

Hoang Pham: “Homeboy is my home”

Rasheena Buchanan: “You can’t get this kind of love anywhere else”

Glenda Alvarenga: Hungry for Empowerment

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

Pedro Mata: Working for a Better Life

Eugene Walker: An Advocate for Positive Living

George Nunez: Being the Father He Never Had

Mariana Enriquez: A Moment of Clarity

Amie Zuniga: How an Accidental Transformation Led to a Life of Purpose

Lami Glenn: “Their generosity is what drives me”

Evan Hess: Father’s Day, every day

Dorene Macias: parenting and paying it forward

Juan Marquez: Constructing Confidence

Gabriel Lopez - Two generations in gangs, two generations of change

Jose Arellano - Lost and found