Valerie Perez works at Healthy Homes Block by Block, a door-to-door outreach program in Cincinnati that provides assistance to pregnant women and families with young children under six.
At Block by Block, Perez is a Block Leader, meaning that she walks down the streets in the neighborhood of Price Hill and knocks on each door, asking the families who live there if they need assistance. Perez says the organization provides families with a variety of resources, from educational books for the kids to crash courses on resume-writing for the parents.
For Perez, working for Block by Block is more than just a way to pay the bills.
“I know what it’s like to be ran over, what it’s like to not know what your options are, where you can go, or where you can get the help that you want,” Perez says.
In 2010, Perez was arrested on a drug-related charge and lost custody of her three young children. She pled guilty, was on probation for five years, and spent two years battling the courts to regain custody.
“I was given lawyers that didn’t care and flat-out told me, 'I took your case because it’s a high-profile case and I want my face on it,’” Perez says.
During her trial, Perez was accused by news stations of giving marijuana to her children. Perez admits to smoking marijuana in her home while her children were present, but says she did not give it to them.
“[The police] had no proof that I was giving my kids marijuana. They drug tested [my kids] seven times and it all came back negative, but they didn’t talk about that in the court hearing,” she says. “There was so much stuff that was going on that never even got brought up in front of the judge, the courtroom, or the television stations that were there.”
Perez says she feared leaving her home during this time due to the vicious street harassment that she faced, provoked by the reporting of the accusations in the media. People screamed at her in public and news stations camped out at her home, waiting to get photos of her for their next newscast.
Perez says that she now uses these experiences as motivation for her work with Block by Block. There, she can help people who are facing hardships similar to her own.
“This isn’t just a job for me,” Perez says. “It’s so personal because of what I went through: losing my kids, having a felony record, and struggling with the court system. It feels really good to do this with families, for them to know that they’re not just another number on a tally sheet for me, but that I do this genuinely from the heart.”