Jessica and her son at the Community Connect office. Credit: Minnesota Hospital Association

For some, a job is just a 9-5 that helps pay the bills. But for Jessica Perez Acevedo, her work is personal. As a Community Connect Resource Navigator at Children’s Minnesota, she helps patient families connect with resources like food pantries, benefit programs, transportation services, legal assistance, housing support and more. Jessica is a mom of two who knows firsthand just how impactful these resources are to families.

In 2019, Jessica’s son was a patient at Children’s Minnesota, the largest exclusively pediatric health system in Minnesota. She was connected with a resource navigator who helped her find legal resources, GED assistance, clothing and food for her baby.

“At first, it was difficult for me to ask for help because I was raised in an environment where I needed to solve my own problems and not involve others. I was also a very shy person,” she said. She built a trusting relationship with one of the navigators, Esti, who is also Latina and understood Jessica’s cultural background and perspective. Jessica could connect with Esti on a personal level based on their shared experiences.

In 2020 during the pandemic, when Jessica had her second child, who was born with Down Syndrome, the first person she thought to reach out to for help was once again Esti. Esti helped Jessica become a certified personal care assistant to support in caring for her daughter’s special medical needs.

Now, Jessica is the one other families call for assistance. Below, Jessica shares more about her journey and why she’s so passionate about being a resource navigator.

What inspired you to become a resource navigator?

A few years after being helped through Community Connect, I received a call from Esti and she told me about an open resource navigator position. I was a bit skeptical about applying for the position; I didn’t believe in myself at first. But thanks to the support from Esti and my family, I took a leap of faith and applied for the position. I still remember the day I received a call from my manager, Zuzi, that I was the candidate for the position. After my final interview, Zuzi called me again to congratulate me on getting the job. 

From the first day meeting Esti in Community Connect [when my son was a patient], to now working for the program, is what inspired me – and still inspires me – to work at Children’s Minnesota. The help I received back then, and now being able to help other families, is a true inspiration in itself.  

Can you tell us more about the Community Connect program?

We know that most of what determines how healthy a child is happens outside of hospitals and clinics. Their health is determined by how and where they live, learn and play in their everyday lives.

Community Connect is a program at Children’s Minnesota that helps families. Our resources are simple but critical, we provide information about food pantries, referrals for food stamps, connecting families with legal assistance, financial support, housing support, education and more. We always aim to make it easy for families and patients to connect with us when they are ready to receive assistance. There is more help involved in our everyday practice, which is why our connections with families last more than just a few weeks. Since the Community Connect program started six years ago, we have helped more than 2,000 families each year, and I was one of them back in 2019.

Our resource navigator team is a diverse group of people who come from the communities we serve. We understand the cultures of our patient families; we know what it is like to have a difficult time asking for help. We build long-lasting relationships. Whether they are Spanish-speaking, English-speaking or speak another language, I help as much as I can with their needs.

What do you find rewarding about your work?

Helping others is the best feeling. When I help a parent or a young kid and they say, “Hey, thank you!” there’s a feeling in my heart that I’m not just doing a job but rather fulfilling a purpose. I love to help every family as much as possible by finding them the resources they need and going above and beyond to ask them how their day is going. Knowing that I can help someone and make a difference in their life is truly fulfilling.

What do you want others to know who might be afraid to ask for help?

I know sometimes it can be scary or you feel embarrassed to ask for help, but you shouldn’t. We all need help at a certain time in our lives.


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