When students at Evergreen Middle School see school social worker Michele Jerry, they witness everything she would want them to be.
The bubbly African-American woman with red hair marches to her own drumbeat, and in a world where teens have a tendency to become a product of their neighborhood and circle of friends — or their followers on Instagram and Tumblr — she feels a unique calling to help them discover their individuality.
“I always appreciate kids who are different, make their own status quo, don’t care what friends think and instead put their all into basketball, education, dancing, and other values,” she says. “I tell them, ‘Don’t get caught up in what teens typically do, realize you are so much more than your neighborhood.’ ”
Jerry’s previous positions prepared her for the vital one of helping to shape the next generation. She started out working in foster care, and then went on to join New York Presbyterian Hospital’s oncology department — a time memorable and dear to her.
“One of the most moving experiences was when families would ask me to participate in memorials,” Jerry says. “It meant so much to me because it showed they thought of me as much more than a social worker.”
The Woman of Distinction deployed her new skills to help grieving families cope with the heartbreak of losing a loved one.
“There was no more pain, they said their good-byes and made peace,” she says. “The whole medical team taught me what good physician care was about, and modeled for me how to act with people throughout my professional career; it was a blessing.”
The experience taught her to treat people with respect, regardless of circumstances, and to be patient with everyone and acknowledge their existence, Jerry says.
These days she loves to encourage kids to develop their own personalities, learn how to feel comfortable within themselves, and speak up and stand up for self-justice.
“I tell them not to cower and become less, when faced with a new situation,” she says. “I tell them to step outside of their neighborhood.”
Jerry’s support network consists of a group of colleagues and friends who join her for lunch everyday.
“We now call our small group ‘Ladies Lunch,’ even though there is one honorary male member!” she says.
The honoree goes above and beyond for others, says Ladies Lunch member and school counselor Lucila Macias.
“Michele has become an amazing role model for her students,” Macias says.
“She shows them love, caring, and empathy, and relates to them as a big sister and friend — they truly love her, and we are all extremely happy and proud to work with Michele.”
Community and faith are integral in her life, says Jerry, a proud member of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Fort Greene.
“Church is my foundation and I believe that I am made whole because of God’s mercy and grace,” she says. “I’m a flawed person, and I try to treat people I come in contact with kindly.”
Occupation: Social worker.
Company: Evergreen Middle School.
Claim To fame: “Providing emotional and supportive counseling to at-risk youth.”
Favorite Brooklyn place: “My own neighborhood near Pratt Institute.”
Woman I admire: “My mother, she has been my number-one advocate and supporter at all times.”
Motto: “All things through Christ who strengthens me.”