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Support Services offer various programs to address social determinants of health, including housing and employment coaching and placement, among other critically needed services.

At 16 years old, Christopher Smith left his home in Visalia on foot and walked more than 20 miles to his grandmother’s house in Strathmore. “I had had enough,” he says, referencing the years of emotional, verbal and sometimes physical abuse by family members.

His grandma was a source of stability and love for him. But less than a year later, his grandmother died suddenly from a seizure in the car his mom was driving. He and his brother were both passengers.

“It was surreal. I felt like my life was okay, and then this happened.”

He stayed at his grandmother’s house after her death but was evicted not long after and began couch surfing at friends’ homes in between bouts of having nowhere to stay.

“I hated handouts and I didn’t take them. I told myself I’d rather be homeless than do that, which I was most of the time. Handouts were completely out of the question. I was taught early in life that nothing is free.”

He struggled with housing and basic needs for several months until he came across an employment assistance program that referred him to the Crossroads Transitional Housing Program at Pacific Clinics.

He was accepted into the program at 19 years old.

“By that time, I would have said yes to anything housing-wise. I was diagnosed with depression but did not believe them. They said I was grieving. I didn’t think I was. I was not ready to admit I was struggling. But the team was so welcoming and understanding.”

Over the next several years, Chris says the program opened an avenue of life he had never fathomed.

Roads to Personal Growth

At the encouragement of the Crossroads team, one of the first milestones of many he would achieve was earning his GED.

“I lived in households where I was called names like ‘stupid’ or ‘slow’. I wanted to prove them wrong. I was really proud of myself and felt good about myself as a person. I felt like I was on the same level as my schoolmates who had graduated.”

Being in the program also changed how Chris saw the world, the people in it, and himself. Living with individuals experiencing severe mental health challenges such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe trauma was humbling, he says.

“Bit by bit, I took in every piece of the program and also started tapping into my own mental health. I asked myself, ‘Am I depressed? Yes. Do I have trauma? For sure. Do I have triggers? Yes.’ And so I started addressing them. With all of this, I grew.”

Turning Transformation into a Career Helping Others

The Crossroads team took notice. While Chris was in the program, the team began to count on Chris’s desire and ability to help support his peers and lead them toward healthier behaviors. His responsibilities and leadership continued to grow and evolve over the two years he was in the program, and when it was time to exit, the employees asked him to continue to play a role through volunteering.

Then, in 2014, a year into Chris’s volunteering efforts, Tino Lucero, the program’s supervisor, offered him a full-time job as a youth advocate.

“I was in disbelief,” Chris says.

In his position over the years, Chris has worn many hats and carried out many roles, including talking to high school kids about mental health, advocating for youth in the program, and serving as a mentor, driver, counselor and more.

A Tale of Two Hearts

In addition to personal transformation and a new career, the program had one more offering for Chris: a fairytale plot twist.

“Through the program, I met my wife, Angelica,” he says.

At the same time Chris was volunteering and working for Pacific Clinics, Angelica worked alongside him as a Pacific Clinics behavior specialist. One day, Chris’s boss asked her to drive him to and from a speaking engagement, and it soon became a regular part of her job.

“At the time, I didn’t have a car,” he says. “Super embarrassing. But she would be so happy when she saw me. She’s a college grad, so I didn’t think I had a chance, but she liked what I was about.”

One night in 2013, in front of a crowd of kids at an event she was attending, he proposed. They have been married since 2015 and have two kids, ages six and four.

Christopher Smith with his wife, Angelica Smith, and their two sons, Cairo (left) and Carmelo (right).

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