The Homeless and DC community has lost a strong advocate and good friend in Jesse Smith, who passed away quietly in his sleep last week. All of us at the National Coalition for the Homeless send our sincere condolences to Jesse’s family and friends. We are so grateful for the passion Jesse brought to each presentation he gave with the Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau, and for the friendship he gave to each one of us.
Jesse and I were AmeriCorps buddies. We started as VISTA volunteers under the purview of the National Coalition for the Homeless in the fall of 2006. Jesse was filling the position of Vendor Manager at Street Sense, and I the Development Associate at NCH.
Every new AmeriCorps VISTA is required to go through a few day’s training called the Pre-Service Orientation, or lovingly, the PSO. Out of the 200 or so brand new VISTAs at our PSO in fabulous suburban Wilmington, DE, Jesse had to have been one of the oldest (if not THE oldest), but his enthusiasm to make a difference far surpassed that of all the freshly graduated, doughy-eyed, young do-gooders.
Jesse and I bonded over being “bleeding-hearts.” I had the pleasure of accompanying Jesse on several out of town Speakers’ Bureau presentations, and each time, Jesse’s interest never wavered. He seemed to derive endless delight from educating audiences about homelessness, and for talking with students about how they could make a difference in their communities, and he would often talk long after the allotted presentation time was up. He was absolutely floored when we spoke at a sold out Empty Bowls fundraising dinner at Harrisburg Area Community College that was inspired by one student who had seen Jesse speak the previous school year.
There are so many memories that come to mind, but I know Jesse touched the lives of so many others, and we will all hold those memories close in remembrance. May Jesse’s spirit of justice and camaraderie continue to inspire our work as advocates to end homelessness!