By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
MILLVILLE – Ivelise “Eva” Perez is in a much better place today from where she was growing up, and the journey that got her there has inspired this mother, volunteer who plans to one day receive her doctorate in psychology to run for Millville City Commissioner.
Perez is a volunteer and community partnership coordinator at the Holly City Family Success Center, helping at-risk families in Millville. The center is part of South Jersey’s Gateway Community Action Partnership’s network. She said her own experience growing up in poverty with an absentee mother in the Bronx helps her connect with those she dedicates her life to serve – along with the community.
“I wanted to run for a seat in the Millville City Commission because I am the community,” Perez told Front Runner La Prensa recently. “I know firsthand what the families in our community are going through. I understand their struggles, their fears, their needs and their dream of what the City of Millville can become.
“I also want to be a positive role model for my Hispanic community and for any person in my community that came from the same humble upbringing as I. If I made it, you can make it too! The campaigning just kick started and it honestly feels all surreal. I believe big changes are coming to the community and I feel that my team and I can and will get the job done,” she added.
Perez will earn her bachelor’s in psychology from Wilmington University this fall after receiving her associate’s from Cumberland County College, now Rowan College of South Jersey, in 2016. From there, she plans pursue her master’s and doctorate with a goal of helping others in need.
The passion and determination behind this mother of five comes from her own personal story, one that could have left her a cautionary statistic on the streets of New York City if it wasn’t for a loving grandmother and aunt.
It’s a story of emerging from the trouble of those streets to South Jersey in search of better life and with the help of her partner of 15 years, finding the inner strength to push through the obstacles in front of her.
“[My partner] has been my rock throughout all of my life changes,” Perez said of her current relationship. The couple has three children of their own along with two from Perez’s previous relationship.
“He has supported me through all of my struggles and has seen me grow as a person and professional. My children are my biggest fans and cheerleaders. They believe in me even when I don’t believe in myself,” said Perez, who moved to Millville in 2007 after living in New York City and Vineland for six years.”
In her teenage years, Perez made a promise to her grandmother to turn her life around after growing up in the Bronx surrounded by poverty, drugs, gangs and violence. On top of that, Perez said she had to battle with her own issues of feeling unwanted and insecurity.
“My parents split up when I was 2-years-old,” Perez said. “My mother and I never had a good relationship. She was a very absent parent. I looked for love and guidance from my grandma and my Auntie Wilma. As a child I had a lot of insecurities, depression, anger and confusion. I just sought a normal life.
“As I got older, the void I felt inside led me into trouble time and time again. At the age of 18, I dropped out of high school. I was lost for a bit in the streets hanging with the wrong crowd. My grandmother worried that the streets would take my life one day. She sat me down one night to talk and her words penetrated my soul. Two years later, she passed away. I promised that in her name I was going to change my life,” Perez said.
On that promise, she returned to graduate in 1999 at Roberto Clemente High School in the Bronx and realized she needed to leave the place she grew up. That brought her to Vineland in 2001.
She emerged from an emotionally abusive relationship to find her current partner and family. Perez said she can still her the voices of her grandmother and aunt, which helps inspire her.
“My grandmother is still with me, my Auntie Wilma who is like a mother to me,” Perez said. “She has always been my support and loves me unconditionally. My partner has been my biggest supporter. My children above all are my inspiration and my joy. They are all routing for me to win this November.”
Perez calls the Holly City Family Success Center her “second home.”
“We strive to help families as a whole to avoid child abuse and neglect by helping each family member reach their full potential,” she said. “I believe this career choice was a blessing. I always had in mind to work with families and children since it hits home for me. I was that struggling adult and parent, that neglected child and that troubled teen at some point.
“I just want to help those individuals going through similar struggles. I am able to give back to my community in this way. Before the pandemic, I ran a solid youth group called the Holly City Warriors. This group received workshops, presentations, round table talks, outings and so much more.
“I also ran a parent group. I organized date nights, paint nights, workshops on skills building, presentations on team playing and so much more. I also oversaw a wonderful team of volunteers that helped the center in different ways, including indoor and outdoor events, outings, workshops and presentations,” she added.
Perez said she hopes her personal story of overcoming challenges and hardships to find her own voice will help others in similar situations.
“It is super important for me to be a positive role model in my community,” Perez said. “I always pray that I have a positive impact on any and every person I meet during the course of each day. I only want to be a blessing to whomever I encounter. I hope that when people look at me, they see inspiration and hope.”
She will be able to share that inspiration and message even more if elected in November.
The Rest of the Story
Perez shared other thoughts with Front Runner La Prensa as well.
FRNJ: Tell me about your family and where you are from. Just whatever you’d like share.
Ivelise Perez: My family is from Puerto Rico. My grandparents decided to move to New York City with all of their 22 children in the mid 1970’s. Rented a small three bedroom apartment looking for opportunity and a better quality of life for their children. My mother being the youngest, number 22 of the crew got pregnant in her teens. She was not stable, was in an abusive relationship and into the street-life. Grandma stepped up and took me in as her own. That is where my story began at the East side of the Bronx. I lived in a barrio full of poverty, drugs, gangs, violence and low income families struggling as much as we did.
Grandma’s place was full of love and cousins all year around. Holidays were a big deal and we celebrated everything together. Grandma was the glue that kept us whole. However, my situation was different from any other family member. I always felt out of place and unwanted. They all grew up with their parents in loving and stable homes. I, on the other hand, only wished for that life.
FRNJ: Tell me more about work and groups you are involved in? What inspired you to get involved with them?
Ivelise Perez: I have a beautiful connection with the Station House Adjustment program. This program is a unification of the local schools and the Police department. This program is for first offenders of small crimes committed by youth. They come to me to comply with their community service inorder to avoid a case. I take the youth in and work hard on success plans and workshops that will stimulate the youth to pick a more positive path. The business Facebook page is run by me as well to update the community of all we have to offer and are doing month by month. I also run a Tuesday with Holly City live segment every Tuesday at 2pm with useful workshops and presentations for all to enjoy.
I look back on my life and where I am in my life today and I feel blessed and grateful. I want to give back to my community and in this position I do just that. I enjoy my career.
FRNJ: What kind of impact you are hoping to make in Millville? What is Millville’s biggest challenge?
Ivelise Perez: I hope to get the Hispanic population and the community as a whole involved in the positive future growth of Millville. I would like to bring back the sense of unity, the love for the community and the love to thy neighbor by my actions as a commissioner and the actions of my team members. Millville’s biggest challenge will probably be getting the community involved in the positive change and believing in their city officials again. However, I have faith that me and my team will make this happen this time around.
FRNJ: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Ivelise Perez: With my master’s degree in school psychology, in the beginning stages of my doctorate in psychology, working at a local school as a school psychologist. Still involved heavily with my community. Hoping to still be a part of big changes in our City of Millville.
FRNJ: Anything else you would like to add?
Ivelise Perez: I am humbled by this opportunity to run for city commissioner. I believe that big positive changes are coming soon and I am just glad to be a part of it all. I have a great supporting team and only the best intentions to move forward.
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