For this installment of “parents who inspire”, I’m honored to be featuring my good friend Jessica Lima Smith. I first met Jessica in middle school, where as a new student in our small school community, she instantly made a positive impact with her warm and hilarious personality. Jessica has always been someone people want to be around because she is kind, smart and has an infectiously fun spirit.
Jessica works as a high school counselor, one of the toughest and most important jobs out there in my humble opinion. She also serves on the board of a local youth program she participated in growing up called Youth Ensemble of Atlanta, which she details below. Jessica is truly a connector, and her ability to develop rapport with adults and students alike make her an incredible asset to her school and larger community. Her work to support youth in her professional and personal life inspires me. I’m excited for you to get to know her.
Tell us a little about yourself:
My name is Jessica Lima Smith and I am a school counselor at Duluth High School. My husband is Kenard Smith and my 3-year-old son is Davin Smith. We live in Duluth, Georgia, a northern suburb of Atlanta.
As a parent, what’s your favorite part about living in your city?
One word. Diversity. My neighborhood, specifically, is a true melting pot. For example, we’re black. My neighbor to my left is white. My neighbors to my right are Mexican. My neighbors across the street are Korean and my son’s new buddy, about three doors down, is Indian.
Also, this must be said – we often hear ITP folks scoff at the lack of good food options OTP and it makes my husband and I chuckle. (Administrators note: ITP and OTP are Atlanta area acronyms that stand for “inside the perimeter” and “outside the perimeter.” The competition is real between these two defined areas!) Yes, we have our fair share of Applebees but you can also find authentic Korean BBQ and Pho, REAL Mexican food, Ramen and more all within a mile of my house. I love a good culinary experience and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed trying all the great cuisine in my area.
Downtown Norcross and Lawrenceville, which are adorable, are also close and when we do go into Atlanta, it only takes about 20 minutes. There are great parks and public schools in the area, too. Overall, we’re enjoying it.
What are your passion projects or in what ways do you engage with your local or national community?
My work as a school counselor is my main civic connection to my community. I work at the high school that services my address so I often see my students at the grocery store and at the movies. Sometimes, this is a bit much. Particularly when I’m stocking up on wine or on a date night with Kenard. 🙂
Other than that, it’s awesome. Working so closely to home allows me to have a better understanding of my student’s environment and I am honored to be their advocate at school. We deal with tough issues like abuse, neglect, and homelessness and I try my best to provide support and resources to help my students get through these tough times. We are increasingly seeing more instances of self-harm and suicidal ideation and we are the ones in the school with the unique training to help. It’s hard – and I have to remember to take care of myself because sometimes, it gets heavy – but it’s vastly rewarding.
Outside of work, I’m also on the Board of The Youth Ensemble of Atlanta. YEA is a theater company for minority youth which I was a part of as a middle school and high school student. They stand out not only for their talent but in the fearless way they confront issues in society. They produce original pieces dealing with HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, apartheid and civil rights, just to name a few. They are the perfect mix of art and activism. You can check out what they’re doing next and show your support here – http://youthensemble.org/
What’s your favorite part of your civic engagement activities?
With school counseling, I love seeing my students succeed. Every year at graduation, I watch a few kids cross the stage who I thought would not make it. The odds were definitely stacked against them. However, they get their diploma and I can’t help but feel I had some part in that. They come over for hugs and pictures after the ceremony and I’ve been known to shed a tear or two. 🙂
Regarding YEA, it’s so energizing to see youth being creative and vocal about the issues they are facing. They are more present to what’s going on in society than most adults I know. I always leave YEA shows thinking “If these children aren’t afraid to speak out, I can definitely make my voice heard.” It’s great!
What inspires you to engage in these activities?
Again, it’s the young people. My students and YEA kids alike. The ones that really push through, as they say. Resiliency is such a beautiful thing. It’s one of the most underrated qualities in a person but my kids are strong and when given support, they persevere. It’s always inspiring to observe.
Any words of wisdom for parents wanting to create space for civic engagement in their own busy lives?
Start small and local. Join your PTSA, for sure. It’s extremely important. Making your voice heard and creating partnerships with other parents, teachers, students and community stakeholders makes a huge difference.
Are you feeling inspired?! As a former school counselor, I have a unique understanding of the important work Jessica does every day for young people. I’m thankful there are individuals like her working in education and championing on behalf of students too often overlooked by the system.
I also have a unique understanding of how exhausting school counseling can be, so I’m so inspired that Jessica’s passion for youth spills over into her personal life. If you’re in the Atlanta area, I strongly suggest you check out Youth Ensemble of Atlanta‘s work. They have doing amazing things for 25 years.
“Children, after all, are not just adults-in-the-making. They are people whose current needs and rights and experiences must be taken seriously.” — Alfie Kohn