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Embrace Your Story; Guide Your Future

By Gloria Perez, Jeremiah Program President and CEO

I wake up each day with a tremendous sense of gratitude. An attitude of gratitude is not something I’ve held my whole life, though I remember being coached to give thanks at the side of my bed when I was a little girl. My current gratitude practice is something that I’ve increasingly cultivated since I first came to Minnesota more than 35 years ago.

At the age of 18, I feared that if I stayed in San Antonio, steeped in an environment of an economically challenged neighborhood and a tight-knit family, I might never explore life possibilities. There were stories I believed about myself aside from the comfort in my identity as a Mexican-American Catholic girl from the Southside of San Antonio. There was more to who I could be in the world.

Tragic events and growth

When I was 4 years old, I was hit by a car. It was a traumatic experience for my family. My memories focus on two things: One, being very afraid before I went into surgery because they would not allow my mom to stay with me in the Emergency Room. Two, feeling very fortunate to be alive. I vividly remember people saying things like “She is so lucky to be alive!” or “God wasn’t ready to take her; she must have a very special purpose in life.” Regardless of what God intended, I believed the stories I was told.

At some level, even as a child, I believed my life had a purpose; I knew I was lucky to be alive and it influenced my view of myself.

When I was 10, my dad died of cancer. While my dad had been sick for a few years, his illness was not something that we talked about. But as you might imagine, my sisters and I sensed that something was wrong. Shortly before my dad died, he told me that things happen in life for reasons we cannot explain. He said it was not my place to question why things happen. He told me God has a plan. My job, he said, was to figure out my life’s purpose…God would take care of the rest.

Looking for direction

The subsequent five years were incredibly hard on our family and the harder things became the more I yearned to get away. My mother did her best to keep all of us on track but that is not what happened. Slowly but surely my sisters fell in with the wrong crowds and they ended up not continuing their education.

Being the youngest, my mom doubled-down to help me stay on track. She started attending night school and would take me with her to make sure I completed my homework. I loved being on a college campus and kept pondering “What was my life’s purpose?” It was that year of accompanying my mom to college that I decided I would go to college so that I could have a career in a helping profession.

Even though I started to feel like I might know my life’s purpose I was still focused on my shortcomings. Although I did fine academically, I was not on the starting team for basketball and I was not one of the cool kids. The story I told myself was that I was not smart, I was not athletic, and I was not cool.

I started to feel inadequate and insecure. The reality was irrelevant; what really mattered were the stories I told myself. Because I was not feeling good about myself, I started to make bad choices.

The summer before starting high school my mother gave me an incredible opportunity which turned my attitude around. I was a strong vocalist joined a co-ed music group at the local Catholic boy’s high school. At the end of the year the choir was going to tour Eastern Europe as part of a peace initiative through the school. My mom said if I was disciplined enough to maintain my grades, practice and earn money for the trip, she would let me go. So I applied myself in all areas and spent countless hours daydreaming about what life would be like after the trip.

My enthusiasm for what was possible started to overcome my insecurities. I started to create a new story about myself. I told myself that even though I was not good at sports or popular, I was cool in my own way because I was going to get to go to Europe with a group of high schoolers….and I was the youngest member of the group.

The trip was an amazing experience and it opened my eyes to a whole new world. While I thought I was poor compared to most of the kids at my school, when I saw the poverty in some of the villages in Romania and Bulgaria, I felt very fortunate to have my life. Not only did I have a loving family, but I also had running water, adequate housing and clothing, delicious Mexican food and I lived in a country that gave a voice to the people. The story I told myself was that I was very blessed. I was blessed to have a supportive mother, a good education and the opportunity to learn and grow.

While I was given these amazing opportunities, the other young people around me – my sisters, the neighbor kids, my cousins – were not experiencing the kind of success my parents, family, and teachers talked about.

The story I told myself is that there was something in my environment that obscured the hopes and dreams of people I admired. And from my vantage point, if they were feeling hopeless and resigned to an unfulfilled life, I too was at risk of losing hope. So I changed my environment to change my outcome.

The leap of faith

While I knew moving to Minnesota would be a culture shock, I told myself that I needed the physical distance from my home. I began attending the College of Saint Catherine in St. Paul. However, after leaving San Antonio, I sorely missed the Latino community.  It took me about a year to get connected into the Latino community in St. Paul. Before I knew it the elders and civic leaders were welcoming me, encouraging me to get involved and ultimately mentoring me.

Through volunteerism, academic pursuits and mentoring by community leaders, I learned: how to run a business, about community organizing, about the roots of systemic inequities and about how nonprofits work to improve the lives of people and communities.

Minnesota career

While I started my career as a small business owner, I kept volunteering and building my skills as a leader by joining boards in the community and being a member of civic groups. After getting married and having two children; and working more hours than I’d like to admit, my husband suggested that I consider a career change. I didn’t think anyone would consider me a viable candidate to run a nonprofit but I discovered that my business and civic experiences gave me transferable skills. In 1995 I was hired as the Executive Director of Casa de Esperanza, a domestic violence agency headquartered in St. Paul.

For me, it was a perfect fit because I had volunteered there over several years, beginning in college. Working with the women at Casa and being of service to families in crisis was an amazing growth opportunity and I loved the immersion in the Latino community.

In 1998 when I learned about the Jeremiah Program Executive Director position, I was awestruck by the ambitious mission and I felt a personal connection to the work. I loved that Jeremiah was focused on determined single mothers that want to go to college. If my mom had had support to go to college, after my dad died, she would have jumped at the opportunity to be mentored and supported.

Without a doubt, Jeremiah Program has been a place where I’ve learned some important leadership lessons. Jeremiah mothers come to Jeremiah with dreams and hopes. They believe they have a purpose. They push through their fear and extend their trust to Jeremiah staff and to an educational and work system that has not traditionally worked for them.

Jeremiah children are, by far, the most inspiring part of the work for me. When you meet a child, you can see their potential and inner beauty. I want to make sure all children have a solid foundation so they can be their best selves. I want all children to have stories about themselves that give them hope, strength, and resiliency.

What story do you tell yourself about your life’s purpose? While we cannot control what happens in the world around us, we can control our thoughts about ourselves and we can give meaning to the events around us.

 

 

National Leaders Promote 2Gen as Opportunity for Future

Aspen Institute Forum on Children and Families

As state and federal lawmakers prepare for the year ahead, there is momentum for solid strategies that move families toward opportunity. The second Aspen Forum on Children and Families, being held February 26-27, will bring together national leaders – policymakers, practitioners, researchers, and philanthropists – to surface bold and practical ideas for investing in the full potential of children and families, two generations at a time.

Jeremiah Program will be one of the success stories highlighted on Wednesday as well as a presentation by Minnesota Viking linebacker Anthony Barr who participated in a Christmas event with Jeremiah December 2018. His foundation, Raise the Barr, “is committed to assisting single parents overcome poverty and/or difficult financial circumstances through attaining a post-secondary degree or certification,” according to its website.

As a Fellow at Aspen Institute, Gloria Perez, Jeremiah CEO, is deeply involved in the research and training on 2Gen opportunities. Ascend Fellows are visionary, entrepreneurial leaders with bold ideas that can move the needle on health and well-being and offer concrete economic and social
mobility pathways for children and their families.

Although the registration is closed for the forum, live streaming is planned for the entire two-day event.

About Aspen Institute
The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute has campuses in Aspen, Colorado, and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also maintains offices in New York City and has an international network of partners.

Jeremiah Program Welcomes New Governing Board of Directors   

MINNEAPOLIS – December 31, 2018 – Jeremiah Program is pleased to announce its new governing board of directors: Erin Peterson, Inés Sira, and Jeremy Wheaton.

“Jeremiah Program is incredibly fortunate to welcome extraordinary members to the governing board, said Jeremiah Program CEO, Gloria Perez. “Their extensive business experience is a true asset and we’re grateful for their commitment to transforming lives, two generations at a time.”

Erin (McDermott) Peterson (Austin, TX), Partner and Global Talent Acquisition Consultant at PeopleResults  
Erin Peterson is a Talent Acquisition Leader and Consultant specializing in global recruitment, process innovation, employment brand, and Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO). She has been fortunate to work inside and consult with many well-known brands including Accenture, Aon Hewitt, Amazon, and NFP.

Erin is a frequent speaker at conferences and has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, Crain’s Chicago Business, HR Executive Magazine and has published articles in the Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership (see below). She has a degree in Psychology from Concordia College, and has served on the Board of Directors of the Staffing Management Association (now STAR Chicago) and I.C. Stars, a Chicago based not-for-profit. She and her husband currently live in Austin, TX. Erin is currently serving as chair of Jeremiah Program’s Governing HR Committee.

Inés Sira (Minneapolis, MN), Global Business Leader, Scotchlite Reflective Materials, 3M  
Inés is a visionary executive with an outstanding record of delivering results and raising the bar in execution. She has a keen ability to accelerate business growth in all product life cycles and multiple business models, drive results and develop high performing teams by translating business strategies into actionable objectives. Inés is a creative leader who shapes business outcomes, champions change and can manage ambiguity and navigate within a matrixed organization.

She has deep experience in global, international and US business management, business development, strategic planning, marketing, digital and sales management, product development, operations, P&L management, regulatory, clinical research and reimbursement. Inés is currently serving on Jeremiah Program’s Governing Advancement Committee.

Jeremy Wheaton (Minneapolis, MN), President & CEO, ECMC  
Jeremy has spent 20 years leading high growth, entrepreneurial businesses to achieve strong outcomes through engaged teams, focused on a clear vision and strategy. Jeremy is a new CEO at ECMC and relocated to Minneapolis from the Chicago area. ECMC has made a multi-year investment in Jeremiah Program capacity-building and Jeremy is excited to build a strategic partnership with Jeremiah Program.

Jeremy was raised by a single mom and has a passion for the transformative value of education. He is currently serving on Jeremiah Program’s Governing Finance Committee.

About Jeremiah Program 
Jeremiah Program offers one of the nation’s most successful strategies to end the cycle of poverty for single mothers and their children two generations at a time. As a leader in the field of 2-Gen programs, Jeremiah uniquely focuses on the whole family to achieve long-term, sustainable results. The approach has been proven to achieve significant educational, health and economic benefits for parents, children and communities.

Jeremiah Program currently operates nationally in both residential programs with integrated early childhood services and non-residential programs where housing and early childhood education are provided through community partnerships and resources. The organization is on a consistent growth path with its newest programs in Rochester, Minn. and Brooklyn, N.Y. Jeremiah Program also has a presence in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minn. Austin, Texas; Boston, Mass.; and Fargo, N.D.-Moorhead, Minn.

Why Supportive Housing Matters

Jeremiah Program is aiming to change the trajectory of single-mother families in the twin cities by providing five key program pillars designed to help families transform themselves from poverty to prosperity, two generations at a time. In our recent mailing you learned more about empowerment, Jeremiah’s 16-week pre-admissions course taken by single mothers. In this article we will highlight another pillar – safe and affordable housing.

One in four Minnesota households currently pay more than they can afford for housing, often forgoing other essentials like food or medicine in order to pay for housing costs. Homelessness is hard to track and often looks like couch hopping or staying with family members. Many of Minnesota’s homeless are children, who struggle with a myriad of issues related to homelessness: truancy, illness, increased exposure to Adverse Childhood Experiences and more.

Many, though not all, Jeremiah families come from unreliable or unsafe housing situations. A few families come from shelters or have experienced long-term homelessness. All of the families at Jeremiah are living below the Federal Poverty Guidelines, and regardless of their income, Jeremiah families only pay 30% of their income for rent on the Minneapolis and St. Paul Jeremiah campuses. This allows families the ability to afford food, clothing, daycare, books for school, and other necessities.

In conjunction with Jeremiah’s other pillars of support, providing housing to our families means they don’t need to worry about a safe place for their child to grow up or how to pay for their apartment. Moms can focus on their education and spending quality time with their children, and Jeremiah children, in turn, can have the childhoods they deserve.

You can help support safe and affordable housing for Jeremiah families. Please visit jeremiahprogram.org/givemsp and make your gift today.

Jeremiah Program Announces New Chief Advancement Officer

Jeremiah Program is pleased to announce its new hire, Debra Wilken, as the Chief Advancement Officer (CAO). Wilken has spent the better part of three decades with The Salvation Army Northern Division Minnesota & North Dakota, where she previously served as the Executive Development Director.

“A hallmark of an effective development professional is an ability to inspire others, said Jeremiah Program CEO, Gloria Perez. “Deb is mission-aligned and a believer in the power of education and community to transform lives, two generations at a time. Her enthusiasm for Jeremiah Program’s strategic direction and her desire to partner with colleagues across the country will make us stronger.”

In addition to extensive expertise in fundraising, Wilken brings marketing and communications, training, and volunteer development experience to Jeremiah’s national office. Prior experience also includes Professor of Record at Olivet Nazarene University. Wilken earned her Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in Organizational Management from Concordia University, Saint Paul, Minn.

With a proven track record for fundraising, including major and planned gifts, endowments, corporate and foundation giving, Wilken is the ideal fit for continuing Jeremiah’s mission and vision for national expansion.

“Miraculous transformations are happening for families through the Jeremiah Program,” said Wilken. “It’s an honor to help donors align their desires with the outstanding outcomes of Jeremiah.”

Wilken will officially start with Jeremiah on October 29, 2018.

Volunteer Spotlight: Meet Mette

This month we are kicking off our Volunteer Spotlight series, to honor our volunteers who give so much of their time and talent to Jeremiah Program. Our first profile is on Mette Lundsgaard, Jeremiah Program Volunteer Extraordinaire.

 

Mette Lundsgaard, Jeremiah Program Austin, Volunteer

How did you hear about Jeremiah Program?
My sister, who lives in Minneapolis, was familiar with the program and recommended I look into the Austin efforts.

 

How long have you been volunteering at Jeremiah Program?
Started fall of 2015, three years!

 

What do you love most about volunteering at Jeremiah Program? 
The program itself – the focus on education for both moms and kids.

 

Please share a favorite memory/funny story while volunteering. 
My favorite memory is August 2017, super-hot days, moms coming in about 5:30 worn out from work, school, bus riding, all of the above – and then the joy on their faces when they pick up their child.

 

Please share a fun fact about you!
Travel, travel, travel.  I have been to 63 countries – and planning a few more in 2019!

 

Thank you so much, Mette, for all that you do to help Jeremiah Program families. Stay tuned to see our next Volunteer Spotlight, and please visit https://jeremiahprogram.org/austin/volunteer/ if you’re interested in becoming a Jeremiah volunteer.