GRRC Employee Completes Third Mentorship

Emma Hughes

Gila River Indian News


When Norma Perez, District 4, started working for Gila River Resorts & Casinos, she planned to stay for a year. That turned into a 15-year career during which she completed two degrees and a certificate along with three rounds of the Pathways Mentorship Program, which helped her further her career.


On Dec. 8, Perez gathered with friends, family and colleagues at Gila River Resorts & Casinos — Wild Horse Pass to celebrate finishing the latest mentorship, which is designed specifically for members of the Gila River Indian Community. It allows an employee to rotate through various departments for two years to get an in-depth education about several aspects of the business, and only one member is selected at a time for the program.


“The Pathways Mentorship Program really gives opportunities to Community members to get into areas that they might not have been exposed to in the past,” said GRRC CEO Kenneth Manuel.


He explained, “The individual gets to spend, whether it be several weeks, maybe even up to a month, indifferent departments within the gaming enterprise—departments like food and beverage, slot department, cage marketing, security, surveillance, entertainment, hotel.”


Manuel added that the program has grown over the years and attracted more interest.


“I’m very happy to say that as of this last round of candidates, we probably had over 50 members of the Community who were who were seeking the opportunity,” he noted.


Perez shared that her initial goal was to become a juvenile probation officer for the Community. But she was inspired by an experience on the other side of the law.


“I had my time where I had my fun and I ended up getting assigned to a juvenile probation officer,” she said, “and it was that probation officer that inspired me—that really gave me the reality check—and said,  ‘You know, if you don’t get it together, you’re going to dig yourself in a deeper hole that … you won’t be able to get out of.’”


Perez started working in security for GRRC in October 2008, spending five years in positions including parking lot patrol and security dispatch. In 2012, she started her first Pathways mentorship as an assistant security supervisor. 


The following year, she transitioned to a mentorship as a human resources trainer. She decided to apply so she could encourage fellow tribal members and show them it’s possible to earn an income and provide for a family.


After that mentorship, Perez went on to the Human Resources department as a trainer.  But just before hitting her 10-year anniversary with GRRC, she left to join the Community’s Tribal Education Department as a student advisor.

“Not long after, I felt that the investment that casino made in my personal and professional growth wasn’t being used as much as I hoped it would,” said Perez.


Six months later, she re-applied for her old job, which was still open, and went back to being a trainer. She didn’t regret leaving, however, because she said it made her appreciate GRRC.


Since returning, Perez has served as a recruitment coordinator, training supervisor, recruitment coordinator, wellness recognition manager and talent acquisition manager.


Meanwhile, she earned an associate’s degree in criminal justice, a bachelor’s degree in human services from Ottowa University in 2015 and a graduate certificate in human resources management from DeVry University in 2021.


Being able to wear many hats “helped me grow a lot and helped me overcome challenges,” Perez related, adding that attending a women’s conference hosted by GRRC inspired her to apply for her third mentorship.


“They just pretty much encourage you,” she said, adding that she credits GRRC senior leadership for creating a safe, comfortable environment.


“I’ve had many people along the way encourage me, motivate me, inspire me,” Perez said. “I don’t know what’s next, but I do know that I’ll be here for the next 25-plus years, still helping the Community.”