Getting to know: Luz Perez

DOWNEY - The True Lasting Connections (TLC) Family Resource Center was launched in 2001 because the Downey Unified School District and concerned community members saw the need to help students and their families cope with serious disruptions ranging from the parents' drug addiction to their losing their homes to getting their normal routine shattered by domestic violence to the death of siblings, and, perhaps the most jarring of all, to the death of the parents themselves. The thinking was that if the kids cannot focus on school matters, or they harbor insecurities or inner turmoil especially while at school, how can they be expected to perform well?

So the decision was made that the children and, by extension, the other members of the family as well need as much support as the system can provide. Funding the program has never been easy.

According to Luz Perez, TLC site administrator at its headquarters at the corner of Bellflower Blvd. and Foster Road, TLC has had to depend from the start solely on charitable contributions and foundation grants.

TLC's average annual budget is $200,000. "Yet, somehow," Perez says, "we have raised the necessary funds year after year." (TLC answers to Dr. Robert Jagielski, director of student services).

The recent "State of the Schools" fundraising luncheon, for instance, which featured DUSD superintendent John Garcia as main speaker, raised $5,000.

Another fundraiser held Feb. 6 at the Downey Civic Theatre called "A Piano Full of Laughs" featured pianist-host Mark Shearer, who teaches at Carpenter Elementary and is a film & TV composer. Familiar names such as Kirk Cartozian, Kari Volen, Barb and Kent Halbmeier, Phil Davis, Eric Pierce, Valentin Flores, Roger Brossmer, Blanca Rochin, Fernando Vasquez, Mario Guerra, Robert Jagielski, Luz Perez herself, and Downey High School students gave special comedic performances, with all proceeds benefiting TLC.

For years, TLC has held a well-attended annual fundraising luncheon at the Rio Hondo Event Center. This year, in its stead it's holding its second annual "5K For TLC" for a Healthy Downey on Saturday, April 5, at Rancho Los Amigos.

TLC's programs include a counseling program, vision and medical clinics, case management, parenting education, health insurance enrollment, the McKinney Vento program for homeless students, emergency intervention programs, food and clothing and even toys, and referral services to outside agencies.

These services are all free to families whether they are uninsured or underinsured.

Today, one of TLC's major successes is its link to more than 50 agencies which, Perez says, are dedicated to "providing effective support to our children and their families."

One of the most referred and helpful agencies, she says, is the county's Department of Children & Family Services, "when we feel the situation at the home is not safe".

Perez' staff includes: Claudia Garcia, office manager; Lori Roman, assistant; Olivia Gutierrez, case worker; and counselors Amy Damian and Lorena Meghan. Dr. Shane Noble Aguilar is the scheduled service optometrist, while the volunteer pediatricians all come from Kaiser Permanente.

In addition to the two long-serving regular volunteers, retired special ed administrator Julie Helm and retired DUSD head nurse Rose Boland, there is a grieving counselor from Kaiser who provides weekly group counseling for grieving students.

"The saddest event I've ever witnessed at TLC," Perez says, "is watching parents lose their children, either through an accident or sickness. It's always hard."

Receiving over 2,000 referrals a year, the TLC center has often been referred to as a model and award-winning program. Perez says the Association of School Administration was the first to recognize the program's significance in June, 2006 with the Partners in Educational Excellence award. In 2009, the California School Boards Association gave TLC the prestigious Golden Bell award. TLC has also won the Superintendent's Vision Award, plus a host of other awards, not to mention receiving numerous congressional recognitions.

On a personal level, Perez, who has administered TLC since its inception, has been the recipient of many associated awards as well.

"I like what I do because I help people who experience difficulties," says Perez, who was born in Mexico City and brought to the United States at age 3. "I realize how lucky I am. I guess my whole staff is imbued with the same feeling."

Married to Sol, the couple has resided in Downey for 15 years. She holds a BS in human services ('99) from Cal State Long Beach and hired on at DUSD initially in 1992 as a teacher's aide at Gauldin, then at Unsworth, and for five years was a senior instructional aide at Warren High School.

Luz (Spanish for "light") and Sol ("sun") have two daughters: Melissa, 18, who goes to Whittier College, and Martha, 15, who attends Warren High.

********** Published: Feb. 6, 2014 - Volume 12 - Issue 43