Janette Perez earned her Master’s in Social Work in 2018. The hard-working and determined mother of three received the heartrending news that her youngest child had little to no vision in one eye due to a congenital condition and it threw her for a loop. So focused on her children and continuing her education for so many years, she found herself unable to utilize her Master’s degree because the sheer number of doctor’s appointments made her unavailable for full-time employment.
“I felt overwhelmed, inadequate,” she said.
Until a Family and Community Engagement Officer through the Providence Public School system told her about the Parent Leadership Training Institute program run by CAPP.
It sounded like a great opportunity to flex her academic muscles and learn about community engagement. Moreover, PLTI was more than learning civic skills; “it was the beginning of the journey to find myself,” Janette said.
Over the course of the program, Janette gained the confidence to use her voice. She felt she wasn’t just doing something for the community, she was also doing something for herself.
Part of the PLTI program entails participants completing a community project. The work is totally up to the individual, emphasizing their own interests, skills and passion. Janette’s unique experience navigating the deeply complex waters of Medicaid due to her son’s special medical needs inspired her to start a community group for families having difficulty or needing help with accessing Medicaid. She used the skills she’d acquired in school and with PLTI to learn everything she could about the program in order to advocate for families. She wanted them to know what questions to ask, what they might qualify for and how to make the application process successful.
As part of this work, she attended meetings of the Children and Family Consumer Advocacy Committee (CAC) and also found a great deal of help from the Medicaid Advisory Committee, which she found through the RI Parent Information Network. Even still, she recognized that others would experience difficulties. She was no novice and it was still deeply distressing and aggravating. Her goal became to do all of the hard stuff herself in order to have the experience and be able to decrease the frustration for others who faced roadblocks.
“If I didn’t have the background I have, I would have given up.”
She became one of forty-five accepted to the RI Department of Education’s Community Design Team and gives her PLTI experience part of the credit for inspiring her to nominate herself for the post. In the wake of the Providence school system takeover by the state, the Community Design Team will create a report with recommendations on how to best serve students and mend the broken school system.
Janette is thankful for CAPP and PLTI for encouraging her to use her voice to advocate for others and to persevere in spite of adversaries.
“PLTI really showed me that I am somebody. My Master’s gave me the skills. PLTI gave me the push.”