Life, Love, and Community: One Family’s JP Journey
Inaugural JP Alumni Fellow Christine Smith recently sat down with her now-adult son, Benard, to discuss their JP experiences and how their past has shaped their present. They even learned some new things about each other.
When Christine Smith joined Jeremiah Program in 2002 with her two toddlers, China and Benard, she had no idea what her life would look like 20 years later. She just hoped that better was coming for her and her children — and it was. Once they joined the JP community, they found support in a new family.
Today, the 2006 JP Minneapolis grad is the equity director for the Penumbra Center for Racial Healing in Minneapolis, and she continues to give back to JP. A member of the inaugural class of JP Alumni Fellows in 2021, Christine also serves as a facilitator for Empowerment and Leadership, the three-month course every mom enters when they begin their JP journey.
China and Benard are now young adults who each devote their artistic talents and passions to creating work they love — China as a freelance artist and Benard as a musician and photographer.
Christine recently sat down with Benard to discuss their JP experiences and how their past has shaped their present. They even learned some new things about each other.
Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Christine: How would you describe your experience as a JP kid?
Benard: I would describe it as fun. Community. I think those are the words that I would use to describe it, but overall, it was just a great period of time in my childhood. I have a lot of fond memories to look back on at that point in time.
Christine: Speaking of, what’s one of your favorite JP memories?
Benard: We got bikes one year — I don’t know if it was from some type of fundraiser for Christmas or whatever — and me and China rode our bikes in the hallway, and all the other kids were with us. Running around, playing Hide-and-Go-Seek, and hiding in the computer lab. That was fun. There are a lot of great memories.
Christine: Nice! Looking back on it, how do you think our time at JP affected our family?
Benard: I think it affected us in a positive way. It gave you the help that you needed to focus on the things that you needed to do to propel yourself further. And I think that it embedded me with a sense of community and belonging, just growing up with the people that I grew up with and then becoming friends and like close family members after we left, too.
Christine: What’s something you didn’t understand as a child while we were there that you understand now?
Benard: I didn’t really consider back then why it was only women, mothers with their children. But understanding that Jeremiah Program is a program designed to help single mothers and their children, I think I can appreciate it a lot more — understanding it better, versus just having experienced it. Knowing that there are those types of resources out there, knowing that there are people who care about other people and that there are people out there doing something about that to provide support in the lack of a community.
Christine: Awesome. Those are great answers. You got any questions for me?
Benard: Yeah! What was your life like right before joining JP?
Christine: Right before we were in Jeremiah Program, I was homeless. I was renting from my mom — in a really cheap upper duplex from her — and then she decided to sell her house and move into an apartment. And we literally lived on an air mattress in her living room for probably about two months before we had to move. Her landlord said we had to move, and we didn’t have anywhere else to go. But your grandma, your dad’s mom, was like, “Well, you can rent a room here.” Your dad had relapsed on drugs, and I didn’t really want to be in that environment. But versus going and staying at some of the shelters, it seemed like the safest place for us to go. And we had already started the process to go to the Jeremiah Program, so I knew it was only a matter of six weeks, a month, or two months or so to finish Empowerment, and then I would move in.
Benard: Wow, that’s amazing, just how far you came. How did you know JP was the right choice for you and for us?
“JP gave you the help that you needed to focus on the things that you needed to do to propel yourself further. And it embedded me with a sense of community and belonging.”Benard
Christine: I felt like I knew it was the right program when I was in the Empowerment program. I remember being in class, and I was questioning it. And the class was presenting this idea that I was responsible for my destiny, and a light bulb went off. Consciously, I knew I was responsible for my destiny, but I didn’t know. I didn’t have the skills. I didn’t maybe believe in myself enough. But in that moment, I remember this light bulb going off, and all of a sudden, I was like, “Oh, my God. I have the choice right now to change the trajectory of my kids’ life by staying in this program versus staying in a relationship that was toxic.”
Benard: I never knew that. That’s amazing. I’m actually really interested in this next answer, too: What’s one of your most memorable JP experiences?
Christine: It’s really hard to sum it up. I mean, there was so much community — from the staff to the women to the kids — it’s just a blur of memories of the community, the safety. It was like our family. I mean, we had this huge family, this huge village that just wrapped around us. And after I left there, I see how valuable that is because being a single mom is kind of an isolating experience. You’re working and you have your kids and stuff, but just in general, life can be kind of isolating. A lot of times, there just isn’t so much community around, and in Jeremiah, there was just community everywhere.
Benard: What’s a specific moment that you really appreciate that you can look back on?
Christine: I would say sitting in my apartment. This happened often, but one time I remember in particular, I was looking out my window. You guys were in the room playing, and I really realized I was 100% safe, and I had never experienced that level of safety in my life before. So just from an emotional, verbal, physical standpoint, I was just 100% safe, and that was a really profound moment for me.
Benard: Wow. That’s beautiful. What were your hopes for the future when we started Jeremiah Program, and how have they panned out?
Christine: Honestly, I had no idea what was to come. I did not know what life was like. I think that was the scariest part. I knew what life was like with your dad; I knew what that path was like, and that was familiar. It was clear, and I knew what to do and how to react, but I just thought maybe there was something better. And I just really had no idea what that was. I did not see myself where I am today. I’m grateful.
Benard: I hear that. What has led you to stay involved with JP over all these years?
Christine: I think it’s the impact: safety, community, generosity, the mission. I feel fundamentally that my blessings are what I can contribute, how I can serve, and what I can be a vessel for in this world. To be able to stay connected with the program that made such a big impact on me is super… just overwhelmingly humbling. I feel very honored to continue to be a part of it.
Benard: That’s fire.
Christine: Anything else you want to add?
Benard: I love you.
Christine: I love you, too.
Benard: This was a great chance to talk with you and hear those things. I never knew all of that, so it’s kind of cool to hear. It’s also nice to reminisce on fond memories at JP, too. I don’t really think about it all the time, but when I do look back, it’s always nice. So, this is nice.
Christine: Same. I think the only thing I would add is just the community that wrapped around Jeremiah outside of the Jeremiah Program is so important, too. You never know where a person is going to be in life. You never know what greatness is in the children that are in that program, what greatness is in the parents that are in that program, what they’re going to be. This could be the next heart surgeon, the next person that cures cancer. You just never know, and so it’s just powerful.
I feel like I’ve been able to impact a lot of people’s lives in a good way in the work I’ve done. I feel like you and China have, just from your experiences. All that was poured into us makes us better, and then we want to pour that back out into the world.
Benard: That was a great addition. I don’t think I could match that.
The power of Jeremiah Program moms over 25 years. That’s what we’re thinking about as we celebrate more than two decades of relationship-building, growth, sisterhood, community, and leadership — and that’s what you’ll read reflected in our Annual Report Magazine.
Learn how program alumni are shaping their communities and how their children, former JP kids, are doing as young adults. Find out how alumni are mentoring current JP moms. Imagine what can happen in a generation — and imagine what can happen in the next 25 years.