Interview by Sarah Shumick
While working for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, Sarah Crabtree Perez’s boss encouraged her to go to law school after seeing her passion for community members’ needs and the government programs that supported them. Now an attorney for Perez & Morris – as well as an active member of the Columbus Women’s Commission and Women for Economic and Leadership Development (WELD) – Crabtree Perez has founded her own 501c3, The Overcomer Foundation, with a focus on providing quality childcare for single moms.
Give us a snapshot of your career path: I started as an intern with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, where I would audit the community programs ODJFS was supporting. That introduced me to the various needs our community members had and the issues they were facing, as well as how the government was supporting them. It was actually my boss at ODJFS who encouraged me to go to law school, and when I started, I planned on doing public service work. But, once I got there, I started working for a business defense firm, which led to the civil litigation and business defense work I’m doing now at Perez & Morris. I never completely moved away from that inclination to lean into public service, though, which is why I recently launched The Overcomer Foundation.
How did you get started down the path of helping single mothers afford quality childcare and why is this important? Just being a mom of three myself, I knew how expensive it was and everything that went into it. That, along with the work the Columbus Women’s Commission was doing around access to childcare and my own personal experiences interacting with lower income mothers and single mothers, gave me a passion for this issue.
And I think the biggest reason it’s important is because it has this multi-generational impact. With The Overcomer Foundation, children will have opportunities for learning and socialization in child care centers. And as adults, they’ll see the possibility of education for their own children and work in a supportive community with better-paying jobs. So, it’s really about nurturing and preparing the next generation to be successful, while helping single mothers enter (and remain in) the Central Ohio workforce at a good wage. Central Ohio employers also will benefit from a stable, trained, and educated workforce.
Tell us about The Overcomer Foundation. What should we know and how can we get involved? The primary mission of the Overcomer Foundation is to fund child care expenses for single mothers. Once a mother is identified, the Foundation will listen to her goals, discuss child care options that meet her needs, and determine how best to support her. Then, once a mother is in the program, the Overcomer Foundation will act as a hub to connect her to other services throughout Central Ohio, which is where we will have the most opportunities for volunteers. We’re looking for mentors or folks who can contribute both job and professional development training. And, like all nonprofits, we are in need of donors and funds, which will go directly to child care scholarships for the families we’re supporting.
What gets you up in the morning? And what gets you through the workweek? Well, my two-year-old wakes me up every morning (literally). But, joking aside, there is something to be said for remembering that there are a lot of people – whether it’s at work, with The Overcomer Foundation or even my own family members – depending on my work and my leadership, and that motivates me to work hard for them. I think that probably also gets me through the week. I like knowing I’ll be able to spend more time with my family over the weekend, too.
What advice or mentors have helped guide you along the way? I’ve had a lot of great female mentors. My earliest mentor was my mom, who worked harder than anyone I know. My first boss, Paula Brooks, really pushed me to go to law school. And, then throughout law school, I was a research assistant for one of my professors, Joanna Grossman, who focused a lot on gender equity. So, that was really my first exposure to some of those hot issues – from the systems we have in place that were not allowing for pay equity, to workplace practices, to promotion opportunities (or lack thereof) – from a legal standpoint. And, more recently, Barb Smoot, President & CEO of Women for Economic and Leadership Development (WELD), also has been a great mentor, always encouraging me to become more involved and empowering women in the community. She’s helped me elevate a lot of the issues I’m passionate about.
Finally, my father-in-law, John Perez, also has been a tremendous mentor professionally. His philosophy in leading a for-profit business in a way that benefits the community is unique and inspiring. To lead well, you must focus on the well-being of the people you’re leading and serving their needs. That’s always the way he’s led, and the way he’s taught me to lead, whether I’m at work, with my family, or managing The Overcomer Foundation.
What do you do or where do you go to unwind? I find the most peace when I’m able to disconnect completely and just spend time with my husband and kids, especially outside. So, that could be as simple as playing in the yard with the kids, or we also like to hike and explore. I also do a lot of reading, which helps me relax. But, there’s just something about spending time in nature that I find so renewing, and it’s even better if I can share that experience with my family.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be? The ability to be multiple places at once. If there was some miraculous way I could be focusing on work, my family, and The Overcomer Foundation all at once and giving them all the attention they deserve simultaneously, that would be amazing.
What are three things you think Columbus needs? I really like Columbus, so this isn’t a question I often ponder. But, the first things that come to mind, as I think of the issues single mothers in our community are facing, would be a stronger public transportation system and better housing. A light rail system – or something else beyond buses – would be great. And, with housing, it seems like there are more and more tent communities popping up all the time, and as Columbus’ population grows, I think there will be an even greater need for affordable or transitional housing, especially for people affected by addiction and other mental health issues.
Also, as I think about The Overcomer Foundation and our goal to collaborate with other nonprofits so our families have the best possible outcomes, it seems like there are a lot of opportunities for other organizations – if it’s other nonprofits or government organizations – to come together and provide more holistic, comprehensive care for people facing some of these big issues, like addiction or homelessness.
Tell us about an initiative(s) or organization(s) you are most passionate about and/or involved with: The Overcomer Foundation has definitely become my largest focus. I’m involved with WELD, which continues to empower women in our community and fight for gender equity, two of my biggest passions. My husband and I are also very involved with our church, Vista Community Church.
If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them? I would say it’s diversity – diversity of people, our neighborhoods – it’s like a quilt. The neighborhoods are all different, but they’re patched together in a really cool way. For a midwestern, growing city, that’s probably unique. But, it’s definitely one of the things I’ve come to appreciate about living here.