Paying it Forward
Expelled from multiple schools, running with gangs and selling drugs, Antonio was making all the wrong choices. Through his Boys Town coaches, he learned how to grow and improve himself on the field, at school and at work. Antonio became a counselor and coach, and made such an impact that his former students nominated him for UNK’s 2018 Teacher of the Year award, which he won. Antonio credits the support he found at Boys Town with his success and is paying it forward every day with the students he works with.
Watch Antonio's Story
Antonio: So my name is Antonio Perez. I'm a school counselor Omaha South High School and assistant varsity football coach at Omaha Northwest High. I kind of got expelled from a couple different middle schools, and was kind of running with gangs selling drugs a little bit, doing just really dumb things, making poor choices.
And my grandfather was aware of that, picked me up one day and made me pack a bag and just basically took me out to Boys Town and dropped me off. I think once the fall came around, and I was able to play football, that was like when everything kind of clicked for me because I'd never had a chance to play organized sports. And that was the first time that I saw that there was, like, hope for me because I could finally do something that I was never able to do before.
So I mean, I had great coaches throughout from eighth grade all the way through my senior year. Those are the people that kind of really just pushed me to want to be better and to grow. From the time you leave home to the time you return, whether it's going to school or playing on an athletic team, or going to a job on campus, like, you have people that care about you, and all those facets of your life, and you're going to get support around the clock.
I mean, I work with all kinds of kids. The thing that they all have in common, they're all doing things that maybe they haven't thought possible. So just seeing a kid, whether it's them getting a scholarship, and then going on to college, or them just graduating high school, or them finding a career that they're excited about, just gives me great pride in just knowing that I might have played a small tiny piece in that.
You know, on the football field, I've seen some of the toughest kids and seeing them come out of some of the toughest neighborhoods in Omaha and go off to Lincoln or Carney or even out of state has been really amazing, like fun to see, changing young men's lives like that.
Receiving that award last year was humbling. I didn't expect it at all.
Ruben: So we've got a small contingent of students at UNK from South High School. And it was very moving just to hear these students, you know, with just tears running down their face, talk about, "I never thought I would be here. And anytime that I began to doubt myself, Mr. Perez wouldn't let me."
I think that speaks volumes of the impact that Antonio is having on all the students that he works with here at South High School. And I think a lot of that has to do with his own life experiences. Because of the support that he received when he was growing up. he turns around and now he provides that support to our students.
Antonio: Being here at Boys Town, it really prepared me to be a leader from, you know, sports to school to career to family. And my grandfather when he dropped me off, he said, "If you don't take this opportunity, you're going to end up dead or in prison, just like you know, so many others." And that's kind of always stuck with me. Without Boys Town, I wouldn't be able to do the things I do now and I know that.