Meet New JP Fargo-Moorhead Executive Director Laetitia Mizero Hellerud
Laetitia Mizero Hellerud, the new Executive Director of JP Fargo-Moorhead, shares her experience as a single mom and her vision for JP’s future.
“Being a mom is my number one role,” Laetitia Mizero Hellerud said during a special conversation welcoming her into the Executive Director role for JP’s Fargo-Moorhead campus. She was speaking with 2019 JP alum and 2020 Alumni Fellow Alexandra Friese, who interviewed Mizero Hellerud for the Fargo-Moorhead community.
Friese was picking up on a thread about Mizero Hellerud’s life that connected to her own and to that of all JP moms: Mizero Hellerud was a single mother for 14 years, raising two children and navigating the challenges, fears, and doubts of experiencing poverty and leading a family alone. She also helped raise and support her four younger siblings while parenting her own children, all while she was in her 20s.
“That doubt and fear is so real,” Friese reflected, “and the fact that you bring that knowledge and experience into this is so important because it’s something those moms — and even myself when I was in the program — grappled with on a daily basis.”
Mizero Hellerud’s life experience has also prepared her for another central aspect of JP’s work: the value of community. Having grown up in a community-oriented culture in Burundi in eastern Africa, her life truly reflects the adage, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
“I grew up in a collectivistic culture, which means that you learn to understand and value community from a very young age,” she explained. “You also understand the role that you can play in the larger world from a young age, so you don’t grow up thinking that life is about you.”
In addition to her personal experience, Mizero Hellerud’s professional life has also prepared her to take the lead at JP Fargo-Moorhead. A 24-year resident of the Fargo-Moorhead community, she has spent her career supporting women and children through forward-thinking leadership, program management, community engagement, advocacy, and equity-driven principles. After years of advocating for Head Start families and coordinating the statewide settlement of new refugees, she has most recently led policy and systems change and advanced gender, racial and socio-economic inclusion as a published author, Bush Foundation Fellow, board member, and leader in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Northwestern Minnesota. This work has also been critical to her intercultural consulting practice in the areas of diversity, equity, belonging, and immigrant issues.
“This position is the perfect alignment of my interests, values, personal life, and professional background,” Mizero Hellerud shared. “By joining this movement, I am where I belong.”
“I grew up in a collectivistic culture, which means that you learn to understand and value community from a very young age.”Laetitia Mizero Hellerud
The Future of JP Fargo-Moorhead and Beyond
When Friese asked about her vision for the next two years, Mizero Hellerud focused on wanting to listen, learn and observe in the first year. And, once again, she returned to the idea of community, including within JP. She is thinking not only about the colleagues she will work with most directly on Fargo-Moorhead’s campus but also about those across the organization. “It’s a larger community of people I’m trying to really connect with and understand what brought them to Jeremiah and how I can best support each and every one in their role, so it takes time,” she explained.
Her mind is also on how to broaden JP’s work to the larger community. Two weeks into the job, she has already observed that JP has a strong foundation in the Fargo-Moorhead community and wants to answer some key questions: “Who do we have already as a collaborator? Who knows about Jeremiah Program? Who needs to understand what we are about and how we have a unique way to support single mothers two generations at a time?” In seeking the answers to those questions, she hopes to build on her predecessors’ work in the community and scale it up.
“We don’t need to just stay with this campus,” she said. “We have moms already in the community who are not living on campus, but we can go beyond Fargo-Moorhead so we can really impact a larger number of women because we know there are many single moms in this community that could really benefit from the supports that we provide here.” She envisions this scaled work happening over several years.
One thing Mizero Hellerud wants to continue is the inclusive, comfortable, supportive atmosphere that already exists among JP staff and JP families, which she illustrated with a story. Just the day before, she had been chatting with a JP mom and her child. A woman of color who is a transplant to the area and parenting a child with a disability, she is navigating a whole host of obstacles as the sole leader of her family, but JP gives her the support she needs.
“She said, ‘Jeremiah makes me feel like there is nothing that I can’t accomplish, that there are no limitations, that regardless of the challenges that I have, I can do anything and everyone is on my side. Make sure you let Sam know that I said that,’” Mizero Hellerud recounted. “Sam is one of the coaches here. Sam is the name that was dropped yesterday because I was talking to this particular mom, but I know that any mom that I would be talking to would be telling me those kinds of stories.”
Mizero Hellerud looks forward to sharing these kinds of stories with the community in hopes that the JP movement will grow even deeper there. “We do need more friends at Jeremiah. We do need more ambassadors. … That’s my role and my team’s role: to educate the community and make sure that, really, everyone knows what we are doing and see if they can join us because we can’t do it alone.”