Art, computer games, reading, woodcraft. These may seem like fun summer activities to many, but to me, they were building blocks that launched me into my dream job, where I get to provide kids the care they need as a pediatric hand surgeon.
I spent every summer from elementary until high school at the Columbia Park Boys & Girls Club in San Francisco. It changed my life. As a young kid who wasn't interested in playing sports, it gave me a library and computer room to read and learn and an art studio and woodshop to make things with my hands. That's what I still do today — I work with my hands to help heal children.
Growing up in an underserved area, the Club helped me access skills I could not have learned at home and provided the sense of community I needed to follow through on them.
The path to my dream job in medicine was not an easy one. I understood early on there were differences in health care, as my family was uninsured. My parents emigrated from Peru, and my grandfather, a pediatric surgeon in Peru, worked in refrigeration in the United States.
I didn't do well in high school, but the Boys & Girls Club helped me develop the one skill I needed most to get to where I am today: determination. I went to community college before attending the University of California, Berkeley. After graduating, I attended the Stanford University School of Medicine, where I decided to focus on plastic surgery. I did two fellowships — one in upper extremity surgery and one in pediatric hand surgery. That journey took 11 years but led me to finally become a surgeon specializing in pediatric congenital hand deformities and upper extremity surgery.
The determination I developed during my early years at the Club propelled me to dream bigger and achieve big goals. I remember working in the woodshop at the Club for months to make a metal ring, only to lose it a week after finishing it! While I still laugh about that, at the same time I am thankful the Club prepared me to stick with something, even when it's difficult — whether it's medical school, family or a life goal.
Today, my undergraduate and medical diplomas hang on my wall but next to them are certificates I earned while at the Boys & Girls Club. These are perhaps even more valuable to me than some of my medical training. That's why I'm a passionate Club advocate — I know Clubs make a difference and change the trajectories of so many children's lives. It certainly did for me.
Today, I volunteer at local Boys & Girls Clubs in my community to give back to those who gave so much to me. I believe if you've benefited from the Club, it makes sense to give back in some way.
When I talk to current Club kids, I tell them that there will always be challenges they'll face, but if they stay focused, put in the work and remain committed to where they want to go, they'll get there. I also remind them to look up and around for all the opportunities in life and that they're never too young to make a difference. We can all make positive changes by staying active and being vocal in our communities.
In my professional life, I care for children who are mostly underserved and Latino, similar to the kids from the community and Club where I grew up. Life has come full circle, and I am grateful for it.
Research shows that most people give up on their New Year’s goals by January 19, but 89% of Boys & Girls Club members say they don't give up, even when something is really hard. Inspired by Boys & Girls Club members like Michael who face more adversity than most and keep going, our Plank It Forward Facebook Challenge will help you stay motivated to achieve your 2022 goals while helping Club kids reach theirs. To complete the challenge, you must register for the challenge and hold a plank for 89 seconds every day in February.