Omaris Caceres ’16
For Omaris Caceres ’16, Milton Hershey School opened doors to a world of opportunity that has changed the course of her life and allowed her to give back in her own way.
Caceres first heard of MHS when her older sister was accepted, and the family began regularly visiting the campus. Eventually, Omaris’ brother was accepted to MHS, too.
Prior to enrolling, Omaris participating in extracurricular activities wasn’t a possibility in her hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania. Her mom, a single parent, did not have the time or resources while working multiple jobs to pursue activities for the Caceres children.
During her many visits to MHS and through hearing the experiences of her siblings, Omaris saw that anything she wanted to explore was an option. She decided at 9 years old that she also wanted to attend Milton Hershey School and asked her mom to begin the application process.
Caceres describes herself as a very active fourth grader during her first year at MHS. She became involved in the equestrian club, began playing the flute, and pursued theater. She is able to remember this time in her life so well thanks to her first houseparents, Mr. and Mrs. Lee, who made it a point to take many pictures and created many scrapbooks for Omaris. They became more than just the first houseparents she had, they are family.
“I could tell that they really wanted to listen. They cared about what we wanted and our backgrounds and our traditions,” says Caceres. “I feel like as a kid you get dismissed a lot, so it was really interesting to have these adults that were committed to making this an amazing experience as possible.”
The support that Caceres received from MHS staff, like the Lees, allowed her to continue to expand her horizons and take advantage of each opportunity presented to her. She continued to be an incredibly active student, participating in many of the Visual and Performing Arts programs available, along with sports and student government. She even spoke at her Commencement Ceremony in 2016. However, her most impactful experience was during an opportunity as a Rotary Youth Exchange Student, studying abroad in Romania.
This experience inspired the path that she would follow in her career. She had been interested in pursuing health care, influenced by the many family members working in the health care field, but her trip to Romania opened her eyes to the global health atmosphere and led her to pursue a different approach to the health care field.
Caceres attended Georgetown University, achieving a Bachelor of Science in Global Health, with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies. During her undergraduate experience, Caceres continued to find opportunities to travel through public health research-focused internships.
In the Washington, D.C. area, she assisted in community education around HIV prevention and street-based outreach about harm reduction. She then traveled to Chiapas, Mexico to study health data on the relationship between poverty in Mexico and the nutritional status of children.
After completing her bachelor’s degree, she enrolled in Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health for her master’s degree in public health with a focus on women, sexual, and reproductive health. She gained additional experience while completing an internship in South Africa for several months, providing HIV services and prevention, specifically for individuals that were considered high risk.
“I think what motivates the work that I do is that I care so passionately about health access, and I want for people to have access to these resources,” Caceres said. “I want to pour back into these communities”
Her community health work has continued as she transitioned into her career, working for the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia as a Clinical Research Coordinator with projects focused on food insecurity and its impacts on pregnancy. Caceres recently met fellow alumna Amanda Williams ’99, who serves as the Chief Operating Officer in the same department. Their connection has brought a little piece of MHS to her work life.
As she settles into this role and finds ways to continue to give back to her community, she reflects on the incredible impact that Milton Hershey School had on her.
“While I always tell folks I got my determination and my resilience from my mother and my family, it was Milton Hershey School that gave me all the tools to be able to put that into practice and to be able to transform very little into something very impactful,” said Caceres.