At United Cerebral Palsy Central California, love is everywhere you look.
Love can be found between the students as they work together to create artwork.
Love can be found between UCPCC staff as they come together to make the dreams of our students come true.
The latter is 100 percent true in the case of staff members Juan and Emily Mercado.
Juan and Emily met at UCPCC seven years ago. They started out as friends, then best friends, then husband and wife.
“You’re so lucky,” Juan jokes.
“I know,” Emily responds, coyly.
To say that Juan and Emily are #relationshipgoals is an understatement.
“Well, just look at me!” Juan says, jokingly, as he flexes. “Who wouldn’t want this?!”
“Yeah … that is definitely not why we got together,” Emily retorts.
The Love Story of Juan and Emily began simply enough: Emily began working at UCPCC first as a volunteer when she was in high school. She would help out at UCPCC’s summer camp in Fish Camp. Once she was old enough, she applied for a job with UCPCC. She began as a one-to-one aide for students and moved up the ranks to adult programs student advisor.
“You make my story sound so boring,” Juan jokes. Juan has been an instructor at UCPCC for 10 years.
“My first day was a Valentine’s Day and there was dancing,” Juan remembers. “And I thought, ‘Is this how it is every day?!’ because it was so much fun.”
“Juan loves to dance with the students,” Emily says.
Emily says what brought she and Juan together was their common interests.
“We were friends for a really long time,” she says. “We met at camp and then we ended up working here together. I think our personalities came together because it was really easy to talk to one another and we have so many things in common, like volunteering – we worked Special Olympics together – and coaching baseball.
“We would spend hours on my front porch, talking,” Emily adds.
“She was someone I could really talk to, vent to,” Juan says.
Juan and Emily agree they took their time deciding whether they should bridge that gap between best friends to more than best friends, and that’s a credit to the success of their relationship.
It’s that friendship that also makes their first date story memorable.
“Let me tell you about that first date,” Juan says. “We went to a Mexican restaurant in Madera [because] I was staying with my brother. And she was late!"
Not just late, Juan says. “Late, late!”
Emily says, “I was, like, a half hour to 45 minutes late.”
But Emily had several solid reasons.
“I hadn’t been there before, so I didn’t really give myself enough time and I was meeting his mom for the first time, so I was nervous,” Emily explains. “I think I must have asked my mom how I looked a dozen times or so.”
Juan says, “And the whole time my mom kept egging me on, saying, ‘You don’t have a date! She stood you up! You made this up!
“See what I put up with?” Juan says, jokingly.
Secrets to their successful relationship
All jokes aside, when asked what Juan appreciates about Emily, Juan quips, “Just look at her!
“She gets me out of my comfort zone,” Juan adds. “She lets me express myself and not feel like I’ll be judged.”
Emily’s favorite thing about Juan is his compassion for others.
“He comes off silly and goofy, but he cares about everyone in his life,” Emily says. “If you called him in the middle of the night and needed help, he would go to help.”
“I may not hear the phone,” Juan chimes in, jokingly. “But, yeah, I’d help.”
In May, Juan and Emily will celebrate three years of marriage. They agree what makes their relationship work well is being a good listener.
“Talk to each other, and listen,” Juan offers as advice.
“Keep your opinions to yourself,” Emily adds. “Be empathetic: Sometimes your partner doesn’t need your opinion. They just need you to listen to them.”
Family time is the best time
During their seven-year relationship, they have gone through the process of becoming foster parents, and fate brought Alex into their lives.
“I got a text message if we were available, and I just had a gut feeling this was the right thing to do,” Emily says of the day they were made aware that Alex, who was six months old at the time, needed a home. “We had a prior placement that didn’t work out. … It was scary, but we went together and picked Alex up. We are the only mom and dad he knows.
“He’s a charismatic little person,” Emily says of Alex, now two years old. “He steals the hearts of everyone he meets.”
Next steps for this family: adopting Alex, which Emily says will be complete in a matter of months.
When Juan and Emily aren’t working hard at UCPCC, they enjoy spending time with their son and with friends, which has been challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We like to spend a lot of time together as a family,” Emily says. “We coach together, go to the beach and the aquarium … Dodgers games several times a year. COVID has really been hard for that reason, because we like being social.”
Juan and Emily also consider students and staff part of their family. It’s why they enjoy coming to work every day.
“We might be a big, dysfunctional family,” Emily jokes. “But we are family. Through COVID, that’s become more apparent to me. Staff are always checking on each other. And all of the love we have for each other is equally given to the students. That’s my favorite thing about working here and why some many people have worked here for so long.”
“I love coming here,” Juan adds. “This place, the students, have made me a better man.”
GETTING TO KNOW YOU
Who is more romantic?
Both agree Emily is the romantic in the relationship.
Who is a better cook?
Both agree Emily. “I only cook a few things: sandwiches, noodles, bologna (dry with just cheese), spaghetti and cereal,” says Juan.
Both agree Juan. “Like a truck,” Emily says.
Who spends more money?
Both agree Emily. “I’m the buyer of all things, so …” Emily says.
Who apologizes first in an argument?
Emily says it’s her. But Juan says, “It depends on where the argument starts.”
“We’re both pretty stubborn,” Emily jokes.
Who is the funny one?
“I think that depends on your sense of humor,” Emily says. “Juan has a goofy sense of humor. Mine is more sarcastic and witty.”
“I’m witty too!” Juan protests.
Who is the messy one?
Both agree, that title belongs to Emily.
“She leaves her shoes and clothes on the floor,” Juan explains. “Alex will trip on her shoes and say, ‘Mommy?’ and I say, ‘Yeah, that’s Mommy.’”
Who does the laundry?
Both agree, that’s Juan’s job. “Juan is great at laundry, which is great because I hate doing laundry,” Emily says.
Who has the craziest family?
Juan laughingly asks, “Crazy in what way?”
“Jury is out on that one,” Emily responds. “Depends on the time of month.”
Who said I love you first?
At first, Emily says it’s Juan. Juan says Emily.
“OK, it was me,” Emily concedes.
“I’m very shy,” Juan says.
“Sure you are,” Emily says.