Farewell from Jeremiah Program

Gloria Perez remarks from her party on June 26, 2109

What a wonderful evening! Thank you ALL for being here for this celebration and for being part of my Jeremiah Journey. I am honored by your presence and I hope you know that your partnership is at the heart of the successful results of the organization. Together, we have had the privilege to walk alongside countless women and children who are living into their potential. My heart is full!

I am humbled by the warm and supportive words you’ve all shared. Thank you Jenny Edstrom, of Little Box Social and Peter Germann, of Germann Consulting Group, for making the video possible!

Michael, John, Ashley, Ethelind and T. Mychael, thank you for all honoring me with your words and presence tonight.

I want to give a special thanks to the Governing Board of Directors and amazing friends (volunteers and staff) who planned this celebration. You sure know how to make a person feel appreciated! If you could all stand; I’d love for everyone to join me in thanking you. You picked a lovely venue for a party. Thank you Westminster and Tim Hart Anderson for making this possible.

It is a special honor to have my eldest sister Sylvia and my mother, Nora, here with us tonight along with my husband John, adult children and their spouses (Cece and Jose, Eli and Maddie, Liz and Jack and my grandchildren Oliver and Murphy (Rob & Leah could not be with us tonight). Their love and support, and that of my entire extended family, has been critical to my development, has led me to this work and the work I do in the community; they have fortified me over the years.

Reflections on my time at Jeremiah

Even though I am a Latina transplant from Texas, I think I could be considered one of the biggest fans of Minnesota. From the day that I arrived in Saint Paul, I have encountered so many people willing to help me be my best version of myself. Here in the Twin Cities, and especially among the Jeremiah enthusiasts across the country, I have found kindred spirits who believe, as I do, in the words of Paul Wellstone, “We all do better when we all do better.”

As I reflect on the last 21 years, my mind is filled with so many wonderful memories that fall under that banner- we all do better when we all do better.

In the early days, when we were a team of three staff, I used to interact with moms and children on a daily basis. And interspersed between holding a child or hearing about a mom’s day I worked alongside many of you as we strategized about how to inspire the community to join our effort; we’d even strategize about how to keep the women inspired as they parented, worked, attended school, attended Jeremiah trainings, and managed their complex lives. Through it all, I can honestly say that I have ended each day in awe and gratitude for all those interactions. I’ve been challenged, supported, inspired and delighted by what we’ve been able to accomplish together.

A few memories

· I remember Lori Baron approaching me about a clothing closet for the children in Minneapolis. We all know how quickly they outgrow outfits! People would say to me “What a great idea to have a children’s clothing closet!” It wasn’t my idea but I knew it was a good one.

· And when the board said we needed to create a signature fundraiser, Sue Hayes stepped forward with her network of friends, other supporters joined too and the rest is history. Karen Miley, Sue Hayes and I set an initial goal of $15,000 and the honorary chair, Kit Schmoker, said she would not help unless we increased our goal. We conservatively doubled the goal to $30K and we netted something like $80K. That was all you!!

· And I remember our first board chair, Doisey Landry, joining me at a Resident Council meeting where we talked with the women about the responsibility they had to each other and the organization for the safety of the community. Several years later, during the downturn in the economy, we were talking about budget cuts. The women suggested we reduce our operating costs by eliminating onsite security…. they certainly didn’t want us to eliminate a coaching position or increase the child: teacher ratios. They suggested we expand our hospitality services (filled by volunteers) and better leverage technology. That was all them!

· People will sometimes ask about how we expanded to Saint Paul. I’ll never forget that Fr. John Malone, Pastor Susan Peterson and Rev. Linda Loving cornered me at the grand opening of Phase II of the Minneapolis Campus. They told me Jeremiah was needed in Saint Paul and they would be willing to make that vision a reality. Through their leadership and other supporters, I was introduced to Terry Devitt, Norb Conzemius, Frank Sunberg, Susan Sands and so many other community leaders. The Saint Paul Campus is now 11 years old and I know it would not be a reality without that initial group of people activating their networks and sharing their expertise to get the building built.

It is a team effort

I won’t review how we made entree into every new community but I hope you see the theme of team effort- someone tapped someone, who tapped someone, who tapped someone.

A significant part of my joy and energy comes from mobilizing diverse people who share a similar conviction that all people are worthy and when given an opportunity to grow and develop, they will rise to the occasion. Deep inside you know that “we all do better when we all do better!” I love that about all of you!

Like any 21-year-old organization, Jeremiah Program has had its share of growing pains over the years. It is because of dedicated and talented staff and volunteers that we’ve been able to overcome our challenges and thrive. I’ve always said that Jeremiah is a team effort and if I were to call you each out by name we’d be here all night. My key message is that this work cannot be done by one individual and I have deep gratitude for the impact you have all had on Jeremiah Program’s work and on me.

I’ve always said that all we want for Jeremiah women and children is what we would want for ourselves. And to that end, a key opportunity of the program is mentorship, an opportunity to partner with an experienced and trusted advisor to help the women be their best selves.

Michael O’Connell (Read his remarks to Gloria here) has certainly been a mentor for me as have all the past board chairs (all 12 of them). I do want to specifically thank Karen Miley, Susan Sands, Patti Tototzintle, Sandy Vargas, Kim Vanderwall and Peter Germann for consistently investing their time and talent in me over the years- for sharing their wisdom, for listening to me, challenging me and for believing in me. And believe me when I say “Even though I try I am not always my best self!”

After 21 years at Jeremiah my relationships with you have multiplied and grown in ways I would not have imagined.

· I am heartened to know we have such capable and passionate executive directors, staff and trustees in each of our campus communities. YOU are the front-line champions that are making dreams possible for our families.

· I would not have imagined that I would now know, as adults, some of the preschoolers, from those early years, who are now in college and are forging their own paths in the world. What a gift to see them grow and develop!

· I only dreamt that Jeremiah would become a national example of a high-quality 2Gen program. It is a reality!

This journey of mine began in San Antonio, Texas, with my parents and two sisters. Upon reflection, growing up seemed to have more than its fair share of challenges but through it all, my mother’s strength, determination, faith and relentless belief in us is what has made it possible for me to stand before you today. Thank you, Mom, and thank you, Sylvia, for being sources of strength and inspiration. Your love and determination are your legacies for me.

Vision for the future

As I embark on this new phase of my life, I’ll bring with me life-long lessons in leadership, collaboration, humility and empathy; and, I will treasure the Jeremiah relationships that have given me so much joy over the years. I will miss our amazing Executive Leadership Team and the little office pranks, and planks (yes, a little daily exercise is conducted in the national office). I will miss the boisterous laughter of my office-mates and the visionary meetings with the board and consultants about which community we will next explore. I’ll miss the campus tours and the occasional conversation with a mom, a volunteer or a staff member.

But more importantly, I will have great comfort and pride in knowing that we all have a future full of hope. I know Jeremiah Program will prosper and I too will be better for having been on this journey with you.

In closing, I am privileged and overjoyed to pass the baton of CEO to new leadership, who, along with all of you, will nurture the Jeremiah vision and partner with families, foundations and municipalities from around the country to continue making Jeremiah a place for transformation.

Again, thank you for being here today and thank you to the board for establishing a fund (in my name) for Jeremiah Alumni. Our investment in them is an investment in the future because we all do better when we all do better.