Mercy Housing Volunteer Spotlight

Congrats to Sonia and Saeid — President’s Volunteer Service Award winners

Sonia and Saeid

Last year, Sonia and Saeid, two Mercy Housing residents in Northern California, received some news that caught them both by surprise. After years of volunteering, both at a neighboring Mercy Housing community and through the American Red Cross, the couple learned that they would be two out of just four people nationwide awarded the prestigious Gold-Level President’s Volunteer Service Award (PVSA).

“All of a sudden we received a notice and we had to go to Washington to receive this medal,” recalled Sonia. “It was awesome!” The PVSA was launched in 2003 to honor volunteers who use their talent and time to help problems facing our nation. As 2022 winners, Sonia and Saeid visited the Capitol and met the U.S. President, Vice President, and First Lady, and the Governor of California.

The award notification may have arrived out of the blue – but to the people who Sonia and Saeid have served, there’s nothing shocking about recognizing them both as heroes. Both licensed as doctors in their home country of Iran, the couple now spends every day leveraging their extensive medical expertise in service of their community.

Sonia and Saeid met in medical school in Iran, started dating, and got married. Saeid became a licensed as a cardiologist and Sonia as a gynecologist before they decided to move to the United States. Sonia arrived first, and moved into their current home in 2010. Saeid joined her in 2016.

“To me, the United States isn’t just a country, it’s an idea – it’s a light between the darkness and the idea of better living,” reflected Saeid. “It’s been a pleasure to live at a Mercy Housing community. As immigrants to this country, Mercy Housing helped us, and the United States did as well.”

Sonia and Saeid both plan to practice medicine again after taking the board exam in the United States and would eventually like to open a medical practice serving people with low incomes. For now, their days are spent training the next generation of doctors and nurses through their faculty positions at two colleges, serving on the board of a medical journal, and teaching skills such as CPR to Red Cross staff and other volunteers. Once a week, they also visit a neighboring Mercy Housing senior community to lead residents in a workshop about health issues that are common among elderly people.

The residents who attend Sonia and Saeid’s programs appreciate their workshops, which empower participants to take control over their health – for example, in one session, participants learned exercises to reduce the likelihood of experiencing a fall. Even more important, though, are the bonds and connections they have formed with their neighbors.

“Once we were talking to the residents and they said, we appreciate that you come every week, and I said, well, we appreciate seeing you every week because we feel you are part of our family,” recalled Sonia. “Our families are far away, but I can think of you as my mom, as my grandma, and it’s a pleasure to get to see our family every week. It’s amazing for them and also for us.”

“Saeid and Sonia are amazing residents with big hearts,” said Sarah Peralta, Senior Resident Services Coordinator for the properties where Saeid and Sonia live and volunteer. “It’s been my honor to have them working beside me for all of these years.”

While there’s no telling what great things these two may achieve, or where life will take them next, Saeid and Sonia have no plans to stop giving back to their Mercy Housing community.

“I let Sarah know that even if I become President of the United States, we will still come to lead the program at her site every week,” said Saeid with a smile. “That is my commitment to Sarah.”

Mercy Housing California congratulates Sonia and Saeid on their Gold-Level President’s Volunteer Service Award, and thanks them for their service to our community.