Ruben Perez: What FYI Means to Me

          Doing community service with FYI helped shape who I am today, although I didn't realize it at the time.  I grew up in Washington Heights/Inwood, exposed to a lot of negative things - teens involved in violence, petty crimes, carrying weapons, and worse.  FYI helped me experience my community differently.  Participating in community service activities such as graffiti removal, the food pantry, or doing the PB & J runs really helped put things in perspective.  I felt good that I was a volunteer beautifying my community, helping put food on the table for families in need, and showing the homeless that people cared about them.  At the same time it exposed me to the rough conditions that some people live in daily.  I learned that many people attributed their current conditions to poor choices they had made earlier in life.  It was very common for some of those we were helping to give us advice -- they did not want us to end up like they did.  I will never forget them telling us about the dangers of drugs, how silly fights can cost you years of your life wasted in prison, and that education was the key to moving forward.

            After only my first year of participating in FYI, I had already gained a good understanding of the kind of person that I should strive to be.  FYI just promoted "good," there's no easy way to explain it-- it was an infectious thing.  We were all one big family, and I knew that any bad decisions I made would be looked down upon by this family.  Because of my time at FYI, peer pressure was no longer an issue for me at school.  My middle school was small and a lot of the kids in my class were also active participants in FYI, so a lot of us were into the same things, and behaved similarly.  There were other students who were a bad influence and tried to get us to take part in potentially dangerous activities after school – the kinds of things that those adults told us had gotten them into bad situations.  But since we were always busy with FYI, and knew better than to mess with negative things, it actually made the other kids slowly give up because there wasn't any excitement over it any more.

            My friends and I loved going to FYI, because we all understood that together we actually stood for something more, for something meaningful and important, and that made us different from everyone else.

             FYI taught me so many lessons that helped me get to where I am today.  I learned about humility and being thankful for what I have.  I learned that doing good things for others is something that you do for yourself, not because you think it's what is expected of you, or because you expect something in return.  I learned that I am important, that what I do really can affect other people's lives.  I learned that the world was huge, and that no place is perfect but change is possible and it starts with ME.  I also learned what it means to be a leader.  Leading isn't about forcing people to follow you, it's about knowing who you are, what you are capable of, and doing it with conviction in order to get others to walk side by side WITH you.  FYI made me feel like the sky was the limit. That no one could stop me from doing whatever I wanted but myself. I remember wanting to be a music producer, and having a so much support from FYI.  They told me that anything is possible and hard work is what gets you to where you want to be.  As I got older I had a new goal of wanting to wear a suit and be like the guys on Wall Street.  Using the lessons and skills that I learned from FYI, I started to take my college studies seriously and set a goal of getting into the honors program at Lehman College, and I did it.  I strove to maintain a high GPA, and I did it. I strove to be different and do what others thought was too hard by learning another language – Japanese – and I did that too.  Then toward the end of college, I was accepted into a competitive internship at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York for the summer.  It was a great opportunity, and I knew that if I worked hard enough, and applied everything that I had learned in life thus far, that I could turn my internship into a career.  Today I work full time for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and I know that without everything I gained from FYI, I would probably find myself in a different situation today.