Michelle Léana Perez ‘14: On Immersion, Justice, and Jewelry-Making
On the Spring Hill campus, it would be difficult to find a faculty member or student who hasn’t met, shared class time, or worked with Michelle Perez. Known for her winning smile and positive attitude, Perez exudes joy, enthusiasm, and excitement for everything she does. The pre-med student is most passionate, however, when talking about her volunteer work and SHC immersion trips.
Perez, a Hurricane Katrina survivor from New Orleans, La., says that it was nearly impossible to pass up the opportunity to enroll at Spring Hill. “The campus manages to keep this warm, welcoming environment that can be enjoyed by people of many different backgrounds,” says Perez. “I immediately loved the gorgeous setting, Jesuit ideology, excellent faculty, and the manageable distance from home.”
While participating in a pre-health internship and serving as the president of SHC’s American Medical Student Organization, Perez still manages to find time to volunteer weekly at L'Arche Mobile, a local home for disabled adults. This spring, she will participate in her third International Service Immersion Program (ISIP)—this time as a group leader. Instead of taking spring break to relax and unwind, Perez and other Spring Hill students, staff, and faculty will donate their time and efforts in service to those less fortunate.
“For my first immersion trip, during sophomore year, I was placed in El Salvador,” explains Perez. “That experience inspired me to work each day to become a woman for others. We (the volunteers) lived in solidarity by splitting up and staying with families in a small town in Chalatenango, sleeping in their beds, eating their food, and sharing their days with them.”
Perez explains that she learned much about the injustices that plagued El Salvador in the past and still impact citizens today. She shares that volunteering in the country gave her much gratitude and inspiration. “The trip truly grounded me and reminded me of what really matters in life,” says Perez. “It also helped me find my place in the Spring Hill community and exposed me to new friends and new experiences on campus.”
In the spring of her junior year, Perez continued her service work by traveling with ISIP to Kingston, Jamaica. “I witnessed the unconditional love of Mustard Seed Communities for helping disabled, handicapped, diseased, and abandoned children,” says Perez. “Playing chase with children in wheelchairs, reading books, singing songs, and praying with them each day was a blessing and helped me grow in many different aspects of my faith and love.”
Dr. Don Culberson, associate professor of biology and Perez’s advisor, calls her a very creative and independent-minded young woman. “Michelle strikes me as one who lives "intentionally." That is, she is not one who would let opportunity pass her by; she seeks out opportunity and experience,” says Dr. Culberson. “She is a remarkably empathetic person, it seems to me, and this is reflected in the service opportunities she has sought through Spring Hill’s ISIP program.”
To help fund her immersion trips, and as means of self-expression, Perez runs her own handmade jewelry shop, Michelle’s Market, on Etsy. Her pieces feature everything from delicate coral and tumbled aquamarine earrings to chunky turquoise bracelets.
Perez found she had a knack for jewelry-making, much of which she attributes to her father, who made and sold shell jewelry on the beach in Brazil in his younger years. “I want my work to be characteristic of patience instead of haste, of inspiration instead of indifference, and the embodiment of a spirit and human personality rather than machine, says Perez. “It has been a fantastic way to keep my creative juices flowing.”
After graduation in May 2014, Perez plans on spending a year doing volunteer work before applying to medical school.
Colleen Lee, Spring Hill College campus minister for service and retreats, adds that Perez’s goal of becoming a physician seems like an ideal fit. “It’s a perfect career for her because she really understands and lives the Jesuit charism of Cura Personalis; care of the whole person,” says Lee. “When she speaks about the children in Jamaica, she doesn’t describe disabilities, but the beautiful people God created them to be. Michelle already had a heart for justice when she began the program, but in the three years that she has participated I can see that her passion has grown tremendously.”
To find out more about Spring Hill’s International Service Immersion Program, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit Michelle’s Market on Etsy: http://www.etsy.com/shop/MichellesMarket