Kari Perez moved to Austin when her community theater in Houston closed down after Hurricane Harvey.
“We had water coming up from the floor,” Perez said. “We had water coming down from the ceiling, and the Board decided to not [rebuild] the theater because the damage was really bad. I was out of a job. I didn’t have a car or a place to live. I needed a change. I needed a move.”
Perez has been a member of the Y since she was a child. Her first foray into theater was through a homeschool program at the Y. She also participated in youth sports, summer camp and afterschool.
“The Y has been constant for me my whole life,” Perez said. “There are five kids in my family, and money has been tight, and money has been good. When we didn’t have a lot, we had Membership for All, and we were still able to come to the Y. When money was good, my mom and dad donated to the Y.“
Perez began her career with the Y when she saw a job opening for a summer camp counselor at a Y in Katy, Texas.
“At that point in my life, I was low, and it was messy,” Perez said. “Literally, everything was flooded.”
Perez began her job as a camp counselor at the Monty Ballard YMCA at Cinco Ranch. She was assigned to a group of 8-year-old boy campers.
“They were wild,” Perez said. “It was the perfect antidote to everything going on in my life – it was just me and these wild children. We went to the zoo. We went to the aquarium. We saw the sharks too many times. We went bowling. They played laser tag. And it was such a peaceful break in the middle of my chaos. Because that is what the Y has always been to me: constant, peaceful and in the middle of everything else.”
After the summer, Perez decided she wanted to move to Austin, and she immediately applied for a Welcome Center position at the YMCA of Austin.
“Within six days, I had applied for a job, met Austin Arnold [at the Southwest Family Y], had an interview, applied for rent and moved into a house” Perez said. “I jumped in with both feet.”
Perez was hired onto the Welcome Center staff, and she also helps out with administrative membership work.
“Kari is a YMCA culture warrior,” said Arnold, who is the Southwest Y’s Membership Director. “She exhibits all of our cultural traits of being welcoming, genuine, nurturing, determined and hopeful on a daily basis. She is no stranger to the Y, having worked at YMCAs in Houston, and she is always ready to serve our members with contagious enthusiasm and joy.”
When Perez worked at the theater in Houston, she worked 80+ hours a week. At the Y, she has been able to enjoy her work, but she also has time to enjoy life outside of her job.
“I have this weird new thing called free time,” Perez said. “I’ve been doing theater since I was 11 years old, and I’ve been working full-time in theater since I was 22. Recently, I made a list of all the things in Texas that I’ve never gotten to see. I’ve crossed 22 things off my list. I got to see a vending machine that you can get an entire pecan pie out of. I saw 15-foot tall squirrel statue. I went to Lockhart and ate barbecue. I went home and took a nap afterwards. Because I work here and not in theater, I get to go to my brother’s college graduation. I’ve missed out on a lot of family events in the past.”
Out of everything, the Y’s “for all” promise is what really resonates with Perez.
“The thing I like most about the Y is that it doesn’t change,” Perez said. “The Y has always been the Y. There are different parts that change. But the Y doesn’t change. It stands sturdy whenever you need it, which I think is valuable, vital and necessary to the community and, especially, all the different communities we serve. Because some people need constant. I enjoy wholly and completely being the different weirdo that I am and that the Y is for. I know it’s kind of hokey to say that, but it’s true for me. I am the ‘for all.’ I am the pink-haired, theater kid who doesn’t really fit anywhere, but I do here.”