IT was spending a short period of time with her grandmother while growing up that led her along her path in life, as she witnessed first-hand what it meant to care for others and give your all, even when you didn't have much.
And so, when Jacqueline Miller relocated to Kingston and her mother developed schizophrenia, she had to draw on those principles to help care for her younger sister and be a shoulder of support to her older brother.
For Miller, that period of illness with her mother caused her to become stronger and face the scourge of stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness. But it also led her to church, where she found comfort and began devoting her time to community work.
“I began going to a church nearby and then I began going to Maranatha International Ministries and they had a programme called Operation Revolution reaching out to high school students. I was 16 and pretty much got involved there,” she said.
Additionally, Miller said she made a promise to herself that if people needed help and she could help, she would. And so, at age 16 she immersed herself in the work of the church — helping others.
The real baptism of fire came when her church migrated to the volatile community of Waterhouse and she saw the real extent of need right before her eyes.
“I saw poverty like I had never seen it before. I grew up for a short while in the country, but here I was in a Kingston community seeing poverty in the form of many people in one room and kids walking up and down barefooted like it was the norm. I was pretty young, but I decided that I wanted to be part of the change,” she said.
Subsequently Miller got involved in the Waterhouse Social Development Commission, introduced a dance group to the community, and started a football team, all through the church. These initiatives saw Miller opening her home to youngsters from the community, which saw her starting the Maranatha Basic School alongside Angella Simms Black and Yvette Loban.
“It was about going out into the community and reaching people. I literally climbed down into the gullies. There were some places you never knew existed in our beautiful island — people using latrines, some not going to school — and we took them back to church and started to teach. But my niche was the teens, and so I did most of my work with them,” she explained.
Things intensified for Miller when most of the leadership from her church began furthering their education and taking up nine-to-five jobs to earn salaries. While pointing out that there was absolutely nothing wrong with their decisions, she shared that she said to her leadership, “if everyone goes back to further themselves, who will spend the necessary time needed to help develop these children?”
It turned out to be her.
“I sacrificed one life to gain all the wealth and education, to see many lives changed. I turned down jobs and closed my business to work with youth. I gave up my life to be mother and father to some of these young boys and girls. There were nights when taxis were not going into the community and I had to drive in to take children to the doctor. Where mothers couldn't be bothered, I had to visit the schools and make it my priority. I give up everything, down to the shoes I wear, to ensure they are OK. I have been held up at gunpoint many times, but I remain. I am not paid a salary or get any benefits from any NGOs. This is totally a life of service. I always said to them, the only thing you could do to repay me is to do good with the opportunity you have got,” she said.
Today Miller, who is a pastor and administrator at Maranatha International Ministries in Waterhouse, has witnessed young professionals, whose development she had a hand in, overcome hardships and live the lives they desire.
“Some of the most successful children are out of the inner city and many of them give back, like Racquel Layne who has overcome much and volunteered her time to be a part of many projects,” she said.
For Miller, her success story is the change she has brought about in the lives of youngsters through opening her home to them, mentorship, or believing in them when no one else did.
Other projects she had been instrumental in include a feeding programme; the Love in our Hearts, Peace in the City conference; the Jesus in the City conference; and setting up an official homework lab at the church through a partnership with HEART Trust and Universal Traders.
Outside of work, Miller enjoys family time with her husband Robert and sons Joel and Matthew. She is guided by the scripture in St Matthew 6:33 which says, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
To young people, her advice is to find their purpose in life. “But, if you're unable to, ask for help.”
And once it is found, she said, stay focused, move towards it, and don't be discouraged by the stumbling blocks.
For others, Miller said: “There's enough life has thrown at you to make you become hard, but you would have become like the things that were thrown. To remain a gem, don't let anything crack you or destroy that beauty in you.”