From NYC to Haiti to City College

Cecilio Pedilla || Photographer ||

Photo by || Cecilio Pedilla || ||

For many students, starting college is a big event. They can become overwhelmed by bigger classes, larger campuses, and for some, being away from home for the first time. Many students find it difficult to get around a new campus, and don’t know where to turn for help.

Now imagine that the United States is not even your place of birth and English is not your first language. Where do you turn?

At City College, it would be the International Student Center and Reginald “Reggie” Jean-Gilles, the counseling clerk who always has a friendly smile and a sincere, “Can I help you?” rolling off his lips whenever anyone walks his way.

“He wants to give the best to the public where he works,” says Mayra J. Jimenez, a student personnel assistant who works with Jean-Gilles.

Jean-Gilles, 30, sits in the back of the City College Counseling Center in a little area that is carved out in a box shape. He was born in New York, making him a U.S. citizen, but he grew up in Haiti with his family. He returned to the U.S, at 16 to finish high school in Louisiana. He came to California after being recruited to play basketball for City College by then head men’s coach David Carmichael.

“I was not nervous about coming to California,” says Jean-Gilles. “I had traveled all over the East Coast and down South.”

With no family and a 49-hour bus ride, Jean-Gilles arrived in Sacramento to find out that his luggage had been lost. For the first few months, he had to rely on only the meager belongings in his carry-on until he could afford to buy more.

“My only thoughts were that I had to make it,” says Jean-Gilles.

He started working in the Financial Aid Department at City College and quickly made friends with faculty, staff and students. He affectionately calls the women who he worked with his second moms. He transferred to San Diego State, where he majored in international business, with an emphasis on Western European culture and French. During his last semester, Jean-Gilles got the opportunity to study abroad in France because French is the native language in Haiti, and he speaks it fluently. He also speaks Creole, English and Spanish.

While in France he met his wife, Lauren. Call it kismet. Two people who had walked the same path for so long finally met in a foreign country. Lauren had attended City College at the same time as Jean-Gilles. She also was an international business student at San Diego State at the same time. It wasn’t until they both went abroad to do their senior class project that they met in the one class they had together, and their lives were forever linked.

Jean-Gilles moved back to Sacramento and is now one of three full-time employees in the International Student Service Center, which helps at least 200 international students.

“We have an amazing camaraderie,” says May Yang, the Work Experience coordinator’s assistant who sits across from Jean-Gilles. “He is very passionate about what he does.”

So passionate that everyday Jean-Gilles arrives 30 minutes early before the office opens so he can read books on personal development and improvement. He says he always wants to get better, be better and do more.

It has paid off in many ways. Students now refer students who might be deciding on a school to him because he is so knowledgeable. Even after leaving City College these students still call Jean-Gilles as a trusted resource. They even have their friends call him with questions. Needless to say, he is much respected.

Jean-Gilles says his faith in God and wanting to excel in life motivate him. He loves what he does because of the people, not just the students he helps, but also, his coworkers. He and Yang lift each others spirits on tough days. Jimenez makes him laugh.

Jean-Gilles makes a difference, not just with 200 international students, but with one student at a time.