At Goshen College, Gilberto Pérez Jr. serves as the vice president for student life and the dean of students, but outside of the college, he seeks to make an impact in as many ways as he can.In the larger Goshen community, Pérez has served as a city council member for the city’s fifth district since 2020.
“That work has really placed me in a lot of different settings across the community,” Pérez said. “It’s looking at ways that the city is helping residents who have issues with traffic, issues with trash pickup, issues with how well streets are [maintained], issues with water flooding, and then issues of housing.”
Prior to serving on the council, Pérez was on the Goshen Housing Authority and the Goshen Planning Commission.
Pérez said, “It’s really [about] connecting people to resources, people to solutions [and] people to finding a better way of what their life can be like in their community.
“It’s a great time to be in municipal government,” he added. “In this city, it’s amazing.”
“I think people don’t get involved,” he said, “because they see so much of the state and national scene that they really forget about local politics. It’s really important. … Local politics determine how people’s livelihoods sort of go … and the amazing thing is that people who are at the local level who are in office really listen.”
Pérez is not running for city council reelection this year, but he will maintain his many other roles throughout the community.
In addition to serving on the council, Pérez is also on the board of directors of Community Pro-Education, an organization focused on providing cultural, charity and educational events for families and students.
“The last couple of years,” Pérez said, “we’ve held a Hispanic heritage festival in downtown Goshen. Year one it [attracted] about 4,000 people; year two, about 10,000 people.”
The organization has also helped get food to people who are struggling to make ends meet.
“At the height of the pandemic,” Pérez said, “we organized food distribution for 16 weeks. Every Saturday we offered food to about 10,000 people … cars and cars coming through. [There is] satisfaction in being part of an organization that is engaged in working on building bridges with people who are in need, who may not feel welcome here, who have never felt or have never been welcomed in this community.”
The organization is setting up a food drive for a food giveaway on April 1 for people affected by the manufacturing sector slowing down and, consequently, having their work hours cut and paychecks shrink.
In addition, Community Pro-Education also runs fundraisers for need-based scholarships to award people in the area.
“This year, we’re planning a student benefit concert,” Pérez said. “We have secured a location — downtown Goshen — and we’re inviting any student band at Goshen College to come and play [to] raise money for Goshen College students.”
Beyond Goshen, Pérez works for Mennonite Central Committee, though “that’s just getting started.”
He also started his own business a few years ago to offer mental health training and consultation across the country.
“We offer training to mental health professionals or church pastors in communities,” he said. “I wrote a curriculum a few years ago that helps immigrants when they arrive in the US.”
He listed the questions and resources the curriculum targets: “What kinds of things do you need to know? How’s your mental health? Who are you connected to? Here’s where you can volunteer. Here’s where we can get food. What goals did you have before you [came] to this country?”
“The groups that we create and build,” he said, “offer immigrants an opportunity to process their journey or migration journey, and so I train the people who lead those groups.”
This particular program has spread across 13 cities in Indiana and 12 states across the country.
When asked what he likes about Goshen, he said, “It has a group of leaders who are seeing the future of Goshen, and we’re putting things in place to be able to grow.
“What I like about Goshen is that it is seeing itself as a destination.”