Grad assists at-risk teens

Posted on: July 18, 2013

Being a young mother who spoke English as a second language wasn’t going to stop Maria Perez from getting an education. The first in her family to go to college, she was determined to earn a degree.

“I had a thirst for knowledge,” she said. “I knew I wanted to do something with my life.”

The Clear Lake resident compared community colleges nearby and found guidance and financial aid at College of the Mainland.
 
“Everyone was very helpful,” she said. “(Advisor Martin Perez) walked me through it and helped me figure out what classes to take, what I wanted to do. He was like my mentor through my years at COM.”
 
At times working two jobs in addition to going to school, Perez persevered with encouragement from advisors and instructors.
 
“I had to balance work, family, school,” she said. “I would pretty much get no sleep.”
 
A COM sociology class sparked her interest in how people, and law-breakers think, and she became interested in continuing to study criminology at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. As the first in her family to go to college, Perez was unaware of the steps to enroll in the four-year university, and COM advisor Theo Moody assisted her throughout the process.
 
“Theo did a great job in transitioning me to the university,” she said. “He put together all the resources and what I needed to know to continue.”

However, Perez hit a low point when she met the father she’d never known for the first time. Though it was not the experience she’d hoped for, she told herself to keep going, that everything happens for a reason.
 
“I don’t want to be a victim of my troubles,” she said. “I want to take my experiences and help them mold me into a better person.”
 
One way Perez is doing that is through interacting with at-risk teens. She’s currently conducting an independent study at T.A.P.S. (Teen and Police Service) Academy with Houston Police Department, a 15-week program that partners with UHCL. The program is designed to prevent crime, educate juveniles and encourage responsible decision-making. In the fall, she will be director of T.A.P.S. Clubs, which foster a one-to-one mentoring relationship with teens to discuss topics of gangs, violence, drugs and bullying.
 
“I’ve heard from other people, ‘They have no hope,’” she said. “I feel the opposite way. I want to go into an area where I can help and not just give up (on them).”
 
Now holding a bachelor’s degree in criminology, Perez is pursuing a master’s degree in order to continue to work with juveniles that many have given up on.
 
She herself is someone whom statistics predicted wouldn’t succeed. Spurred on by COM advisors and her husband and family’s support, she knows the difference that education, and encouragement, can make. When she graduated from UHCL, her entire family attended the ceremony.
 
Perez added, “For my children to see me graduate, that teaches them that no matter what obstacles we face, we can still get an education if we persevere.”


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