Mi Futuro’s Musetta Perezarce creates prescription for success
Musetta Perezarce remembers the insecurity and powerlessness she felt growing up in a family often fraught with chaos and frequently unmoored.
She already had moved several times when she dropped out of high school in her junior year to take a job in a restaurant. Her mother was dying of cancer, and Perezarce knew she had no one to rely on but herself.
While her family of origin was not completely without love, there were many problems that often are byproducts of poverty: drug and alcohol addiction, depression, mental illness, occasional violence, the anxiety that comes with insecurity and little reassurance from adults around her with too little time for a little girl and her older sister.
Perezarce knew if she was going to have any shot at a better life, she needed to go to college. She finished high school and with support from mentors and other caring adults who spurred her on, she attended Santa Rosa Junior College and was accepted into its nursing program. By 23, she had a job with Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa and was on her way to claiming a future she controlled.
Still, the instability of Perezarce’s early life is embedded in her. It informs her work as a nurse and inspires her to help young people find a better life through rewarding, well-paid careers in the medical field.
In 2015, Perezarce cofounded Mi Futuro with Wanda Tapia, coordinator for Latino Health Forum, which serves Sonoma County. They built on a successful pizza-and-information night two years earlier that drew about 50 youth interested in medical careers.
Mi Futuro is a health-care career path program that introduces high school and college students, most from underserved communities, to a range of jobs they may not have known existed, from phlebotomists to surgical technicians, radiology techs to dental assistants. At the same time, Mi Futuro helps fill a need in the medical community for a trained workforce that better represents the diversity of its patients.
In the last five years, 2,470 students have attended Mi Futuro’s annual symposiums, virtual workshops and classroom talks. Participants, 70% from ethnic groups who are underrepresented in the health-care field, meet working medical and mental health professionals who share their own stories and explain their jobs and what it takes to get there. There are skills demonstrations and tools of the trade to touch and try out.
Importantly, Mi Futuro also offers support and information for stressed young people struggling with their mental and emotional health. The organization teaches HeartMath, a method to help people self-regulate their emotions and behaviors to reduce stress, increase resilience and tap into their insights to make good choices.
Make more from less
At the center of it all is Perezarce, a compassionate mentor who frequently reminds students who may be frustrated, discouraged or overwhelmed by challenging circumstances to try to make things better with “the less” life has dealt them.
She tells them: “All the good and right things you’ve done with the less given you will rise like a bold and shining sun. And your sun will rise with healing in its wings.”
Perezarce embodies the truth of that statement. The high school dropout later earned an MBA from Mills College, where she specialized in nonprofit management. She’s currently a patient care coordinator and nurse caseworker at Kaiser Santa Rosa, collaborating with interdisciplinary teams for coordinated patient care.
She also chairs Mi Futuro, while serving as conservator for her older stepbrother with developmental disabilities and sometimes stepping in as an advocate for her sister, who has severe mental health problems.
For her innovation and energy in uplifting youth by opening a path to the future, Perezarce has been awarded the North Bay Spirit Award. A project of The Press Democrat and Comcast, the award shines a light on outstanding volunteers who go above and beyond for their communities. Many, like Perezarce, saw a pressing need in the community and found an innovative way to fill it.