Brother Jerry Smith
As executive director of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen on Detroit’s near-eastside, Brother Jerry Smith sees his role as helping people grow and develop. That belief extends from the youngest children in after-school programs to agency staff, some of whom first came to the soup kitchen for services.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Executive Director of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen Brother Jerry Smith:
A big part of my job, as I see it, is making sure that managers whom I supervise have what they need to do their jobs. My job is to facilitate their jobs and to encourage them, and to facilitate their leadership and their performance of their duties. It also means trying to steer this agency on a good, stable, steady course. It’s more my enabling other people to do what they do, rather than doing something myself.
What is your dream for kids?
This is certainly pie in the sky at this point, but I envision a world where all children have the material things they need in order to live a decent, secure, happy life. They would be fed, they would be clothed, they would be loved, and they would know that they are loved and they are cherished and they are valuable. They would have the opportunity to really develop their skills and abilities to the fullest.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan? If the politicians who come up with some pretty punitive policies could meet, and converse, and enter into some dialogue with the people they are talking about, it could really change their perspectives.
There is a very mean spirit across the land these days -- it’s almost like we’re blaming people for being poor. If the politicians who come up with some pretty punitive policies could meet, and converse, and enter into some dialogue with the people they are talking about, it could really change their perspectives. I think also if the Earned Income Tax Credit could be reinstated, that would really help poor working people and reward everyone who is trying to work. As far as the urine screen for people receiving public assistance, I would say if we’re going to do that we need to have urine screens for anyone who receives any kind of public money – politicians, schoolteachers and so on. It’s not fair to single out one group of people when there is no likelihood they use drugs more than anyone else in society.
How do you know you’re making progress?
The very basic thing is that we see people eating. We see hungry people being fed and we see tons of food being distributed throughout the neighborhood through our services. We’re trying to develop leadership within the community, and develop programs that help children remain in school and be successful. Some of our kids in our children’s program have become the first in their families to graduate high school. We also see a number of people who have graduated from our chemical dependency program who are living life chemical free, and are employed. Those are the encouraging signs. People whose lives are never going to be better in terms of poverty have some good, in-depth human relationships with people in our programs. A lot of the stuff is intangible, and depends on how you measure success.
What are you most proud of?
When I see people taking on leadership roles in their community and around their peers, people who never realized they I have had every advantage in life, and I have an obligation to do what I can do to make sure other people have those same kinds of opportunities.
could be leaders. I witness them being transformed and really helping their community. To see human growth and development, that’s the best -- and that’s intangible, there’s not an easy measure of it. You can see it clearly when measuring kids because they are doing better in school and are able to become public speakers. Human development is the best part of the job. That includes our staff…we have a number of staff hired right from the population we’re serving. To see them grow and develop is gratifying as well.
What originally drew you to your current profession?
I always felt an interest in this kind of work, and now that I am in it, it just feels like the right thing to do. I guess I have always felt I have a very comfortable life. I have had every advantage in life, and I have an obligation to do what I can do to make sure other people have those same kinds of opportunities.