Growing From a Stable Foundation

Entrepreneur Natalie Meeks-Johnson, a former JP kid, shares her JP memories and her perspective on how the program influenced her and her mother’s lives.

Natalie Meeks-Johnson, 29, is a Minneapolis native, creative leader, a multi-venture entrepreneur, and vibrant student. She is also a former JP kid whose mother, 2023-2024 JP Alumni Fellow Tiffany Meeks, graduated in 2000. Natalie sat down with us to share her memories of living on a JP campus and her perspective on how the program influenced her and her mother’s lives.

Share a little bit about yourself and what you’re passionate about.

I am Natalie Meeks-Johnson. I am creative leader who inspires teams and leaders in various sectors to exceed beyond the status quo. Creative problem solving is my niche.

As the Founder of three business ventures over the last several years, my focus is currently operating, managing, and directing The Way Enterprises. The Way is a media, marketing, and events firm that helps organizations, individuals, and multi-generational people change the way that they see things in the lens of media. I’m also finishing my Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies with an emphasis in Learning Technologies.

Additionally, I am the Program and Communications Coordinator for Mind the G.A.P.P. On top of all of that, I faithfully serve as one of the Lead Administrators for Grace Apostolic Church in Minnetonka, Minnesota. So, whether it’s online training and development, teaching, creative problem solving, or bringing your ideas to life through media, I am here to advance everything to the next level.

Can you tell us the story of how you and your mom came to JP?

My mom was looking for housing at the time because we were in transition, and Jeremiah Program came in and saved the day, literally.

This was 1998, I believe, when the Minneapolis campus opened. We were actually part of the first graduated cohort from the Minneapolis campus. So, we lived there from ’98 until 2000.

What are some of your memories from those years?

I was under 5 years old, so a lot of my memory is kind of “there but not there” almost 25 years later. I’m trying to keep the pieces together as much as possible.

I remember finding my mom in the computer lab when I was taking a nap. I remember going to daycare there onsite. I also remember being very close to some of the staff members in the office: Audrey, Joan, and Gloria. I remember being in their offices quite often, and I remember how welcoming and caring the staff members were. I was just always a little tot running around, and I remember running around in the offices more than anything.

I remember living in that apartment with my mom, and I knew when we were driving down Highway 94 which unit was ours because I could see my pink little Barbie tent in the window.

The more knowledge and education that we acquire, the more equipped and powerful we are.

How did JP influence the trajectory of your mom’s life?

When my mom had me originally, she was a freshman in college at St. Thomas studying business and marketing. JP really helped her stay focused and stay grounded. Assisting with daycare, computer labs for studies, and every additional resource you can think of. Jeremiah had all the resources onsite that really helped her get to her next level and graduate with her bachelor’s.

What did JP mean to you back then? What was your understanding of the role the program played in your family?

The crazy thing is, again, because I was so young, I wasn’t aware of everything that was going on. I was just like, “This is our home.” JP really was a safe haven, and it was always going to be home for us at the end of the day. Even visiting this past summer at the 25th [anniversary], they were doing some type of celebrations, and we were able to get back on the grounds and tour the building again. I was like, “Whoa, this is like déjà vu in here!” because I remember being in the daycare playing with the Play-Doh. I remember being in the offices, fiddling between cabinets, looking for candy, you know what I mean? I was just like, “Wow, this is home.” I didn’t know anything else besides Jeremiah being home.

Do you remember how your mom spoke to you about education? Was that a dialogue in your household?

Yes. Good grades and education were drilled down from the start, but my mom didn’t have to worry too much because I was a good student in general. Not to say that in a pompous way, but I was on honor roll almost every quarter or semester, student of the month. She never really had to worry too much.

I would say being a high-achieving student was always at the forefront of our household. That was always pushed, and a big part of that was my grandmother on my mom’s side. When she would come up and visit us, I’d come home from school, and if I had homework, she would always make me do it three, four times over. So, she really helped put that in me — going the extra mile in education — and that was a catalyst for other things in my life: “This is the standard, this is the bare minimum, but how can you push the limit even more? Be better than just good. Be excellent. Be the best.”

A big thing that I took away from the many conversations that my mom and I had was … focus on school, focus on you, but have fun. Make sure that you have time to live for you. You don’t have to put a pause on you because some other life circumstance has come up.

How do you see JP still influencing the trajectory of your life now?

I would say, for my life, just being able to go at my own pace. My mom and I talked about — after one of the sessions at the [2024 Jeremiah Program] Summit — the constant feeling of feeling like you’re in survival mode. I think it hit the whole room. We looked at each other and we were like, “That’s it.”

For so long she felt that she was in survival mode, and she’s just now getting to a space where she can catch her breath. Both her kids are grown and they’re doing well. She just bought her first home last year, and I was so happy about it. At one side, I was overjoyed for her, but the other side, I’m like—not in a condemning or shameful way—“I don’t want you to be almost 50 and you are just now feeling like you can catch your breath.”

And I think that’s a thing for moms in general. Depending on the age or the timeframe that they do decide to have children or start a family, get married, whatever the case may be, depending on your situation, you could feel like you’re in survival mode for longer than you want to be.

But for me, and I think for both of us, Jeremiah provided a sense of finding your foundation and making sure you always had stability before certain decisions are made. At the end of the day, whether it’s housing, career, family, what have you, the foundation and stability that JP provides has carried us through the last 25-plus years.

What was it like attending the 2024 JP Summit?

The summit was our first one together, the one in Baltimore. For me, I was so taken aback by how big Jeremiah has gotten. It was just mind-blowing for me because I just remember it being where we used to live. But now, to see how it’s cascaded across the country… I was just sitting there so taken aback and shocked because I’m like, “Man, this is insane what has happened in almost 30 years!” Not saying that it shouldn’t expand to that capacity, but it is definitely very eye-opening and heartwarming that it’s not just us; there are plenty more that need the help that we got. So that is a big thing for me — just seeing the organization expand beyond the limits.

What do you think needs to happen in our society and in our culture to disrupt the cycle of poverty?

I think the key to the future is always going to be education. The more knowledge and education that we acquire, the more equipped and powerful we are. And when any individual has access in education and authority to educate, you can move information that much further.

What would you say to a woman reading this magazine who is considering becoming a JP mom?

I would want to say to them: Do not accept “no” as the first answer. That would be number one. Number two: You matter, and all of you matters, not just a portion of you. All of you matters because someone is going to need all of you later.

At Jeremiah Program, we know that supporting single mothers means supporting their children. That’s why we’re proud to join the whole family’s journey — two generations at a time — and that’s what the second issue of Imagine is all about.

Hear directly from the college-bound children of a JP alum what their mother taught them about education. Read a Q&A with the entrepreneur daughter of one of JP’s first graduates, who earned her degree in 2000. Learn how JP is investing in the next generation through 529 accounts, tutoring, summer enrichment, and more.

Did Natalie’s experience as a member of JP’s second generation inspire you? A monthly gift goes further to support JP families.

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