How We Heal - Introducing Tanya Perez

Health and wellness promotion is built into IFR’s DNA. It is our mission, our purpose, the reason for our existence. As a result, everyone expects thoughtful and impactful health and wellness programs for different segments of our community. Nevertheless, as anyone can tell you, COVID-19 impacted everyone, IFR staff included. But who could possibly provide health and wellness programs for IFR staff?

Enter Tanya Perez, IFR’s HR Specialist. Born and raised in Fresno by Mexican immigrants, Tanya is the oldest of three children. Beginning her work at IFR in 2018, Tanya’s greatest contributions to the agency have taken root during the pandemic.

Back in April or May, it became clear that shelter-in-place was projected to continue for an indefinite period of time. Tanya, Estela (IFR’s previous Executive Director), Willie (IFR’s HR Director) and others began discussing how staff might remain connected engaged, and healthy. With an ear to the ground, Tanya learned about some of the other non-work-related talents, skills and interests of IFR staff.

Little by little, she began asking staff if they’d be willing to share their talents with IFR staff. If they agreed, Tanya began coordinating classes, making sure to schedule each activity during times when the greatest number of people could virtually attend, and sending out emails to invite staff to attend. Before long, IFR staff had multiple health and wellness choices each month.

“I saw this project as a way we could support staff who are doing the hard work on the front lines of the pandemic. That drove me,” offered Tanya. “IFR often speaks about cargas y regalos. Staff have cargas with their clients and in their own lives, but having ways to take care of yourself are regalos. It opened my eyes to the importance of self-care.”

Certainly, COVID-19 challenged IFR staff in ways we never could have expected. When so much of IFR’s work is relational, engaging with participants and community in virtual spaces is challenging. On top of that is an added challenge when staff can’t easily turn to their coworkers for ideas, support, or conversation.

For Tanya, this project was an extension of IFR’s mission. “We recognize the hard work of staff, so we don’t operate like a traditional HR office. We regularly try to enhance health benefits and create spaces where staff feel welcome and comfortable. We try to make sure we’re there for staff.”

Like most nonprofits, IFR didn’t have a budget to address this unique staff wellness need.

That didn’t deter Tanya. “It would have been easy to contract with someone, but we at IFR have a unique work culture. We like being a part of things and we like to connect to who we are. Our classes incorporate culture, so it adds value to the work we do.” As a result, over the past year, IFR staff had access to Zumba classes, meditation, yoga, and movement/dance classes. They were all provided freely by staff for staff.

Tanya credits the following people for providing their incredible talents to support IFR staff health and wellness: Angela, Carlos, Fernando, Jocelyn, Mela, Noris, Pamela, Pablo (from Tonal), Renatto, and Solymar. “This was a group effort,” a humble Tanya comments. “At the end of the day, we come together to support one another.”

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