Speech by Jeremiah Perez-Torres, a Hearts to Homes recipient, at the
Open Hearts at Oceana Event January 16, 2020
It is an honor and privilege to be speaking with you all tonight.
This honor reminds me that I’ve come a long way. I left home at a young age because I didn’t have any other choice.
By the time I was 15 years old I was entirely on my own and over the next two years I moved at least 10 times. I stayed with friends, friends of friends, and even complete strangers. By this time, I was already in the foster care system, and while I connected with great people who wanted to help me, I still did not have any sense of true stability in my life.
I never expected to live past my 18th birthday. I was hanging out with the wrong crowd. Many of my friends didn’t make it. I was trying to survive on my own with no support.
I ended up going to four different high schools. I never considered college because I couldn’t really focus on studying, and my grades suffered. During my senior year of high school, I met a guidance counselor named Anna. She looked past my rough edges and D-minus grades and told me it wasn’t too late to get an education and carve out a better future.
We talked about college, and she encouraged me to get more involved in activities and internships to make up for my grades and improve my chances of admission. Anna gave me the push to believe in myself – to better myself, and I took it from there.
I set out to change my whole life. I got my act together and finished high school. I distanced myself from the negative people around me. Although I knew it might get lonely, it was more important to reinvent myself.
I enrolled at the Borough of Manhattan Community College where I sat in the front row of all my classes and soon became an honors student. In my spare time, I got involved on campus, including mentoring incoming freshman as a Student Success Leader. BMCC opened its doors for me and helped prepare me for my transfer to SUNY Buffalo State College.
At Buffalo State College I continued thriving and became very involved on campus. I enjoyed working with New York State Police in several capacities such as a student mediator and an overnight patrol officer. Through all of my effort, I was fortunate enough to receive a state-wide award from SUNY, the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence. Reinventing myself finally paid off, and I graduated from Buffalo State College with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and Intelligence Analysis.
After graduating, I knew what I wanted to do and had figured out several pathways to achieve my career goals. I was accepted into the Criminology Doctoral Program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where I am now in my third year and am a doctoral candidate. The work I am doing for my PhD centers around counter-terrorism, de-radicalization and war. This coupled with my work for different law enforcement agencies is helping cement my future in the global security field.
When I was 16 years old, I completed all of the paperwork and was put on a New York City housing list with a foster care priority level. I was finally going to get a home. I mean, I knew I had to wait, it was a wait list after all, nevertheless, it almost 7 years later that I was finally told they had an apartment for me.
I had no family or support that I could rely on during this process, and while I finally got the home that was promised to me so long ago, I needed to make it my home and furnish it. This is when I was introduced to Hearts to Homes. I worked with a few people to fill out a registry and set up a delivery date. This was such an exciting process, but I was hesitant to celebrate. With so many failed promises from my foster care experience and the 7 year apartment waiting list, I feared that this process would amount to nothing.
Hearts to Homes was the first time that I was promised something and it was delivered. The process was easy, straightforward, exciting, and it happened exactly as it was promised to me. The mission of Hearts to Homes is simple yet so powerful. I encourage you all to look at the mission statement online but I think the most accurate part of that statement for me, in terms of the impact it had on me, was that it alleviated stress associated with this process and it gave me someone to depend on. I was provided with a fulfilled promise, a comfortable living environment and a furnished home. Even with my struggle and success throughout the years, I finally had a home to call my own that I did not have to directly associate with homelessness, struggle, my school or job.
It really helps to surround yourself with positive people who believe in you like a foster parent. Or a teacher. Or an organization like Hearts to Homes that offers an invaluable opportunity to a city’s forgotten children.
I’ll never forget receiving all of the items on my registry from Hearts to Homes. It had everything a home needs. Unpacking all those boxes was such as exciting time. It relieved a lot of stress and worry and has allowed me to be successful and not worry about having living essentials and a place to call home. Till this day I have everything that was given to me from that registry and still use it all! One of my favorite things is the swivel chair where I sit to give myself a brain break and twist in circles!
I want all of you to know how much I appreciate you being here, your kindness, and the ways in which you have helped foster youth who have aged out of care a place to call home. I encourage you to support Hearts to Homes so that more young adults can be helped and Hearts to Homes can expand to more agencies! Having a home in and of itself can help individuals who have aged out of foster care turn their lives around and succeed despite any negative circumstances they have encountered.
Thanks to you and Hearts to Homes, we can make our dreams of a better future a reality. Because of you, we can leap forward a few more steps. We can set ambitious goals. We can lift ourselves up to a better place. We can have a place to call home, mend our hearts and succeed. Because of you, we can do this.