By Jennifer Torres
This past spring, when Connie Perez returned to her old elementary school in Porterville, she discovered that little had changed – and that troubled her.
“I hadn’t been back since the late1980s,” said Perez, a partner with Brown Armstrong Accountancy Corporation (Headquartered in Bakersfield, the firm has offices in Stockton, Fresno and Pasadena). “One of the things that shocked me was that the school is exactly the same.”
The campus needs a new playground, she said, and classrooms could use some renovation. “I know it’s the same at a lot of schools,” she said. “The Central Valley, especially, is neglected.”
Perez said she was inspired that day to find new ways to support education – a mission that extends to her recent appointment by Gov. Jerry Brown to the California Lottery Commission
Successful Valley residents, especially women and minorities, have a responsibility to make their voices heard as regional and statewide leaders, said Perez, who also serves as Treasurer of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, Latina Leaders of Kern County and Children Joining Children for Success.
“There is a lack of representation from the Central Valley, but there are a lot of people qualified,” she said.
Perez grew up in a farm labor camp, an environment she describes as small and sheltered.
Her parents encouraged her to go to college, but didn’t know themselves what it would take for her to get there.
“There were no role models,” she said. “Back then, I was thinking, ‘I’ll get married, I’ll have kids and I’ll just work at Target … I didn’t know how big the world is.”
After graduating from high school, she enrolled at Porterville College where she took some accounting classes. At the same time, she was working two jobs. Content with what she thought was a good income, she decided to leave the community college.
Then, one day, she said, she noticed her boss, a man in his 40’s, seemed to be in a bad mood. “I thought to myself, ‘He’s always in a bad mood,’ and I saw myself in him, I thought, ‘That could be me in the future.’”
She decided to enroll at California State University, Bakersfield, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2000, joining Brown Armstrong soon after.
When she returned to her elementary school several months ago, Perez said, she recognized herself in the children there – full of potential and fortunate to have the encouragement of caring adults, but unsure how to pursue a successful future outside their small labor-camp community.
She decided to organize a career day. The event featured talks from nine speakers who shared with elementary students how they achieved professional and academic success. Counselors were on hand to discuss financial aid and explain high school programs that could help students become college-ready.
“I wish that when I was a student there, there would’ve been something like that for me,” she said.
In May, Perez was appointed to the California Lottery Commission. Part of her role as a commissioner will be to help ensure that the Lottery is run in a way that ensures public schools receive the best-possible revenue.
“I want to do something to help these young kids who are the future leaders of our state,” she said.
By Jennifer Torres