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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.

 

 

Minnesota Vikings, Anthony Barr, Spreads Holiday Cheer to Jeremiah Program Minneapolis

Anthony Barr, Vikings linebacker, visited Jeremiah Program Minneapolis-St. Paul on Tuesday afternoon to spread holiday cheer to resident families. Barr said of the event, “Since I grew up with a single mom I know first hand what it’s like to be like these kids. They say it takes a village to raise children and I want them to have opportunities and to be happy in life.” Barr handed out presents for kids and moms, played with teddy bears, and blew bubbles. Despite his 6’5″ frame, the kids flock to his gentle demeanor and love to hang out with him. Thank you for supporting Jeremiah families, Anthony!

Volunteer Spotlight: Meet Jay

Volunteer Spotlight: Meet Jay

Our next honoree in our Volunteer Spotlight Series is Jedediah “Jay” Baker. Jay is the President & Founder of Conduits of Change, a nonprofit organization that supports families to become self-sufficient and provides them with the necessary tools to navigate the waters of life. Jay has been our star when it comes to helping out with our community events. From supplying backpacks and school supplies for our Back to School Bash, to providing and serving meals around the holidays, Jay has gone above and beyond for our Jeremiah families.

How did you hear about Jeremiah Program?
A friend of mine, Ebonie, told me about Jeremiah Program. Our organization was looking for another place to bless those in need with backpacks and school supplies, for our annual Back-2-School Drive. So she called her friend, and gave my number to the person in charge of that specific area. I got a call and we went from there.

How long have you been volunteering at Jeremiah Program?
Since 2017, so this is my second year.

What do you love most about volunteering at Jeremiah Program?
Being a part of bringing some joy into the lives of the moms and their children. I truly enjoy playing with the kiddos, and seeing the hard work paying off that the moms put in.

Please share a favorite memory/funny story while volunteering.
At the Ice Cream Social, I really had a chance to interact with the families. Since I’m a jokester, I was really advertising the ice cream I was serving. And the moms and kiddos laughed at me all evening. Then some of the kiddos broke out in a dance contest! It was an awesome time!!

Please share a fun fact about you:

  1. I am a jokester and the life of the party!
  2. I went to the Grand Canyon in 2009, and can’t wait to get back there!
  3. I want to hike the Camino De Santiago

Thank you Jay for bringing so much joy to our Jeremiah families!

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.

Support Families by Cooking for Kids

Cook for Kids is a wonderful way to support the families on our Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses. We are looking to engage small groups who can purchase, prepare and serve a meal for families on the evenings when mothers attend life skills classes.

Cook for Kids is a perfect team building service opportunity for corporations, faith communities, civic organizations, families, friends and neighbors!

Opportunities are available Tuesday and Thursdays (approximately 4–7 pm).

Organize a group of 5–8 volunteers, then contact , 651-332-5006, to secure your date. We promise you, this is not only rewarding but fun!

Download a flyer here to share with friends and family.