“An inspiration,” “a true leader,” and “a passionate individual” are words people inside and outside of the organization use to describe Gloria Perez, president and CEO of Jeremiah Program. This Minneapolis-based national nonprofit, begun in 1997, works to eradicate the cycle of poverty by providing resources such as affordable housing, education, life-skills training, mentors and employment to low-income mothers and their children.
Perez has been at Jeremiah Program’s helm since May 1, 1998. As executive director, she was instrumental in guiding the organization from its initial location near downtown Minneapolis through its program expansion and the construction of its St. Paul location in 2007.
Now, as president and CEO, Perez is leading the organization’s launch of Jeremiah Program as a national model that will be replicated in multiple states throughout the country.
“I’m passionate about helping women and children,” says Perez, who recalls during her first years as executive director meeting face to face with every woman who was accepted to the program. “I met with them because I felt a sense of responsibility to help them achieve.”
In her current role, Perez no longer has daily contact with the women who have been accepted and reside at Jeremiah. However, she says she still is responsible for ensuring that every woman at Jeremiah is successful and achieves her goals while in the program.
In addition she considers herself a steward of the local and national Jeremiah Board of Directors and a vision-keeper responsible for creating and carrying out the opportunities that transform the lives of the women and children of Jeremiah Program.
Positioning the organization as a national model replicated throughout the country has been a great accomplishment in the struggle to end poverty, Perez says, specifically multi-generational poverty.
The organization has received calls from communities across the country eager to develop a Jeremiah Program model in their area. But Perez and the Jeremiah board have been very strategic in their implementation of the program nationwide.
She says she and the board have identified Austin, TX and Fargo, ND as future sites for expansion. She expects groundbreaking to begin in July 2012 for a Jeremiah Program in Austin and 2013 for expansion to Fargo.
“Gloria exemplifies what it means to be a strong, empowered Jeremiah woman,” says Jaime Christianson, a program assistant at Jeremiah, who speaks of Perez’s undying commitment to advancing the organization and improving women’s lives.
“Since the conception of Jeremiah Program, she has proven the naysayers wrong and swept away obstacles with a dogged determination that I have yet to see matched,” continues Christianson. “Gloria’s tireless efforts and strong leadership have steered the [Jeremiah] vision to reality.”
For her work with Jeremiah Program, Perez recently has been invited to join the Ascend Fellowship program, an inaugural program created by the Washington, DC-based Aspen Institute. The Ascend program includes a select group of 20 leaders from across the country who are pioneering cutting-edge solutions to end multi-generational poverty.
“Gloria Perez is a great example of an innovative thinker,” Ascend program Executive Director Anne Mosle said in a recent press release.
Perez explains that forward-thinking strategies have helped distinguish Jeremiah Program and set it apart from other approaches. While other programs implement strategies that help low-income single mothers with children obtain housing and employment, few have included education as a way to break the cycle of poverty. Jeremiah Program offers all three: affordable housing, stable employment, plus quality education.
“An education is the key to change,” says Perez. Jeremiah offers early education for children and encourages single mothers in the program to obtain a two-year or four-year degree. This opens opportunities for a single mother to better herself as well as her children and escape the cycle of multi-generational poverty.
Perez has a long history serving the needs of women and children. Prior to her work with Jeremiah Program, she served as the executive director of Casa de Esperanza, a domestic violence-prevention program in St. Paul, where she worked as a volunteer while attending Macalester College.
Perez is humbled by the positive comments on her work and readily acknowledges that she has not worked alone. She has the support of Jeremiah Program’s visionary founder Rev. Michael O’Connell, a forward-thinking board, an executive team that inspires her, and a community of supporters who are at her side.
Driving Perez are the qualities that are instilled in every Jeremiah woman: stewardship, healthy relationships, education, respect and outcomes. (The first letter of each word spells the acronym SHERO, pronounced “she-row” — a female hero.)
Perez acknowledges that every woman who perseveres is a shero. According to a number of women in Jeremiah Program, Perez is their shero.
“Personally, I think Gloria is amazing,” says program participant Erica Tolan. “She has not only created a safe place for me and my neighbors to live; she has [also] given us the skills necessary to succeeded in reaching our goals toward a higher education and advancement in employment.
“By providing us with mentors, life skills classes, convenient child care, resident counsel, subsidized housing, and all of the other amazing resources, [she makes] it possible for us women as single mothers to overcome poverty and achieve self-sufficiency,” says Tolan, a two-year resident of Jeremiah Program who has recently completed her Associate of Science degree in criminal justice and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in human services.
Gloria Perez is happily married and resides in the Twin Cities with her husband and two children.
Lisa Bryant welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.