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At the behest of a friend, Jeffrey Perez, after an ordinary baseball practice during his senior year in high school, went to check out a Global Kids after-school session.
It was there that Perez sat in on a reading on sex trafficking – an extraordinary session that changed the course of his life.
"Soon after reading the article we began discussing the consequences of human sex trafficking," Perez said, recalling his days at the non-profit organization for children. "What started out as individual projects for each of us evolved into an enlightening conversation about global events. This opened my eyes and shined a small light on my darkened education.
"Never in my life had I discussed anything like this in school, or had openly used my own opinions and ideas," he added. "That day I learned that the world was not confined to my neighborhood and was given a different perspective on learning. Going to college was no longer a question – it was a necessity."
Perez, who received undergraduate and Master's degrees from Adelphi University while also being the captain of the cross country and track teams, has decided to give back to Global Kids the best way he knows how – by running across the United States to raise money for the organization.
Perez, of Colombian descent, is running along with his friend and former teammate Adam Clark, whose 15-year-old cousin, Shannon Serkes, was just diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.
The duo, who have reached Missouri while running over 1,600 miles over 52 days, is looking to raise $25,000 to be split between their charities.
"This is important to me because I want to inspire people," Perez said. "Many people react to my journey along the lines of, 'Oh, I know this kid named Jeff and he's running across America, he's crazy, but good for him.'
"I want people to see it more along the lines of, 'Hey, Jeff is doing something big. I'm gonna go ahead and do the same.'"
Perez says that Global Kids inspires troubled youths to “achieve academic excellence, self-actualization and global competency," and that it became a reality for him in his life.
"I am happy to share that I am the first college graduate in my family and, as a first generation American, this has made my parents really proud," he said.
"I believe that a person’s dedication has no boundaries and that their will, ethical approach and ability to succeed is measured in time of hardship," he added. "Only during these times will a person’s ability to succeed shine as brightly as it can. I’ve always wanted to give light to people who have experienced similar obstacles as I have, and completing this run seems to be a fitting way."