“She is my hero, and (for) many people in this county. She fights tirelessly and deserves recognition. She is the face of love,” said an admirer who nominated Perezarce for the award but asked to remain anonymous.
Jen Titus, a health and science teacher at Casa Grande High in Petaluma, has taken many students to Mi Futuro symposiums and has brought medical professionals into her classrooms with the organization. She called Perezarce “a firecracker.”
“She sets her mind to something and she figures out how to do it, no matter how busy she is, and she always is. She always has time to help,” Titus said. “She’s always willing to step in to help out and if not, she knows somebody who can.”
Igniting, reigniting passion
The 42-year-old nurse taps into her vast network of friends, associates and colleagues to mount the annual one-day symposium, which each year brings more than 400 students and professionals together in a fun, enlightening atmosphere. Perezarce also has engaged the financial support of the county’s medical establishments, including Kaiser, Sutter Health, St. Joseph Health, Petaluma Health Care District, Sonoma County and Latino Service Providers.
During the pandemic, Mi Futuro moved online, but the is still based at Sonoma State University, where Perezarce received her nursing degree after organization events SRJC’s program.
Kaiser pediatrician Dr. James Pyskaty participated in four in-person symposiums and mentored a young woman from a low-income family who was a first-generation college student and now is a graduate student on her way to becoming a nurse practitioner.
Also with Mi Futuro, he had students practice resuscitating a newborn baby in distress using a mannequin, providing a bit of fun and hands-on experience.
“There was a lot of opportunity for comedy in that age group,” he said. “I assisted them and immersed them on the spot without them having skills in complex medical resuscitation. It was about 25% comedy and 75% real medicine.”
Perezarce also aims to reignite the passions of her fellow health-care workers whose demanding jobs might distance them from the mission-based enthusiasm that inspired them to get into the field. Pyskaty said it’s a testament to her gift for connecting people that Perezarce has assembled so many medical professionals under a single mission at once, a rarity outside their own workplace.
Making the experience fun is part of the winning formula to keeping students engaged and excited.
Daisy Cardenas, 27 and working on her master’s degree in counseling psychology, said many students, like herself, face a host of barriers to higher education. Those could be family demands, insufficient financial resources or a lack of awareness about what’s available, barriers she faced as the daughter of immigrant parents who couldn’t access higher education.
Through Mi Futuro, she said, “There are so many different organizations or agencies who are sharing resources about scholarships, financial aid and things that can support these students,” said Cardenas, who serves on Mi Futuro’s planning committee. “It’s very rewarding and very important to allow students that may come from underrespresented communities to attend events like Mi Futuro to see that there are health care professionals out there in the community who are like them and share similar experiences. It creates motivation and inspiration.”
Perhaps one reason Perezarce is so passionate about her mission is that the challenges so many of her students face are all too familiar.
During her earliest years, she lived in an overcrowded house in Monterey with several uncles, a grandmother and two cousins, plus her sister and mother, who struggled with no support from the girls’ father.
There was open drug and alcohol abuse in the house. After a traumatic confrontation in which the 8-year-old stood up to a drunk and physically abusive uncle, her mother moved with the girls to a friend’s house in San Jose to get on her feet. That family was also dysfunctional, adding to the instability and trauma for Perezarce and her sister.
Perezarce’s mother met a new boyfriend at the community college where she was studying computer programming. They married and moved up to Santa Rosa with the two girls and his disabled son. They bought a nice house in Wikiup, but the two adults were often gone, commuting to jobs in the East Bay.
Musetta was left with little supervision or support. At the same time, she stepped in to help her sister, who became suicidal and in her early 20s was diagnosed with schizophrenia.