Loni Nannini Special for the Arizona Daily Star
Mike and Lorena Arias create life-changing moments for scores of high school seniors looking to attend college – all in honor of their daughter, Victoria, who was unable to pursue her college dream.
“One night Victoria walked into the living room and yelled, ‘I’ve got it! I understand it!’ She had received the email informing her that she had received a full scholarship to attend St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota. I like to say that this moment was life changing for Lorena and I and our entire family,” said Mike, President of the Victoria Teresa Arias Memorial Foundation.
The nonprofit was founded by him and Lorena shortly after Victoria, a honors student determined to become a first-generation college graduate, drowned in July 2017 while swimming laps in the family pool before starting college started.
Since then, the foundation has awarded $88,000 in scholarship funds to 13 high school seniors, including this year’s $40,000 “Nueva Estrella” scholarship. The scholarships are offered to students at Desert View, Sunnyside, San Miguel, Cholla, Tucson, and Pueblo High Schools, as well as students involved in Youth On Their Own.
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“Being able to go to the schools and be able to surprise the students by letting them know they’ve won a scholarship is the same feeling Lorena and I felt when Victoria found out she’d gotten hers. This is a matter of the heart and a lot of work, but we’re giving these students and their families this life-changing feeling, and it’s just so powerful,” Mike said.
The 2022 scholarship recipients – Jasmine Romo from Sunnyside, Ciela Valenzuela Paz from San Miguel, Adriana Grijalva from Pueblo and Arianna Tabanico from Desert View – can confirm this.
“I think it finally hit me a few weeks ago, but at first I was overwhelmed. When I found out I’d gotten the big scholarship, I stood there in shock, trying to hold it together. I was very emotional because it proved that all my hard work was paying off,” said Tabanico, recipient of the Nueva Estrella scholarship.
The 18-year-old plans to earn a degree in Speech, Speech and Hearing Sciences from the University of Arizona and eventually become a speech therapist.
It will be a great triumph for the Tucson native. Raised by a single mother, Tabanico credits her mother for instilling values like kindness, compassion, and empathy while emphasizing the importance of helping others, setting goals, being confident, reflective, and living life on the most positive way to live. Tabanico said this advice helped her overcome significant obstacles.
“When I was little I was diagnosed with selective mutism, a severe anxiety disorder that has evolved into more of social anxiety. I had trouble speaking to other people and would never go up to an adult and speak up if I needed help or support. I think pursuing this degree will help bring my story full circle again. I want to work with kids and help them use their voice so they can give back, too,” Tabanico said.
Known to family and friends as “the kid whisperer,” Tabanico has always felt a connection with kids.
“My mother also calls me ‘tienes la sangre liviana’, which means ‘good-natured and personable’, so I can help children to speak and open up. She says kids can feel my caring heart,” Tabanico said.
Ultimately, the Nueva Estrella Scholarship will ease the college’s financial stress and allow Tabanico to focus on her educational goals so she can ensure that every unheard and underprivileged child she works with has a fair chance in life .
In her scholarship application, Tabanico wrote that if she had to choose a hashtag for herself, it would be #UseYourVoice.
“It’s important to tell the truth and stay true to yourself. Sharing your knowledge, thoughts and experiences with others allows for growth and understanding. It is very important to use your voice to speak up for yourself and others. We are all important; our voices matter,” Tabanico wrote.
The idea that each of us is vital to the overall health of the community embodies the philosophy of the Victoria Teresa Arias Memorial Foundation, according to Mike Arias.
“We want everyone in our community – all family members, friends, volunteers and anyone who buys a ticket to attend the events or supports us in any way – to be able to take on these grants and be proud of them. They are the reason why the scholarships take place. We want everyone involved to say, ‘Yes, we’re helping the youth of our community,’” Mike said.
Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at firstname.lastname@example.org