Spotlight: One student out of 36,000

Caitlin McCarrick

Photo Credit: Caitlin McCarrick / Staff Photographer
Photo Credit: Caitlin McCarrick / Staff Photographer

Mario Perez is a testament to the importance mentors can have to motivate and inspire youth to make the right choices and get on the path to success. Now majoring in biology with a minor in Chicano studies, Perez has struggled to heal and get to this place of success.

“Keeping in contact with my mentor helped motivate me to go to college,” Perez said of his mentor, Johnny Ramirez, former professor in the Chicano studies department.

A year ago Perez would have told you a completely different story on where he was going in life. When he was entering the ninth grade at Santa Monica High School, Perez was a victim of a drive-by shooting and still has a scar on his back to show his wounds.

“I had a different lifestyle and way of thinking then. I was affiliated with gang members and on drugs and alcohol,” Perez said.

After the terrifying incident of the drive-by occurred, Perez bought a gun off the street for protection and was later caught by the authorities and arrested for carrying a firearm. He was only 16.

He was in jail for six months and was introduced to a group home for rehabilitation. Little did he know that this new family he had been brought into would save his life.

“Because of my group home, I’ve been sober for a year,” Perez said.

After he graduated out of his group home, he was living with his aunt in South Central Los Angeles, and it was a struggle for him to make it to school without running into someone who was involved with the gang, since the area was prime gang territory.

He told himself that in order for him to be whole and healthy he would have to stop hanging out with those people. He had a new life path of going to school and getting into college. At his high school he was referred to the EOP program, and he took a field trip to CSUN to visit the campus. He met a case manager and some of the directors, who immediately saw potential in him. He was asked if he wanted to attend the school. One of the representatives would come check on him every week to make sure he was up to date on everything he needed to get accepted into the university.

“I met a lot of people that are good influences in my life. The mentors really helped me stay focused,” he said.

Now Perez understands how critical it is to take advantage of his options within the California State University system. His future goals include staying in school and graduating, as well as becoming a mentor for EOP and for youth coming into the program.

Since he has been at CSUN, Perez is one of the top students in the EOP program.

“I was really determined and always on top of things as well as my ability to help others to the best of my ability,” he said.

Giving back to his community is very important to him, and someday he would like to open his own youth center where mentoring and assistance for youth to get into college is provided. He believes that his mentors saved him from a life that was a bottomless pit.