YSU Foundation Offers Puerto Rican Cousins a Shot at Success

Yesarily Sanchez Rivera (left) and Yesmar Marrero Rivera (right) pictured in front of the White House. Photo courtesy of Scott Galvin/YSU

By Rachel Gobep

When Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico in 2017, one of the many things it uprooted was the life of Yesmar Marrero-Rivera.

She was forced to move to Youngstown to live with her cousin, Yesarily Sanchez Rivera, and finished her senior year at Chaney High School.

“My life here is nothing like my life in Puerto Rico was or still is when I go there,” she said.

The cousins now enjoy a life on the campus of Youngstown State University, with access to chances and opportunities allowed in part by YSU Foundation programs.

Yesmar and Yesarily are as much sisters as they are cousins. Yesarily left Puerto Rico at age 8 to move to Youngstown.

Yesarily Sanchez Rivera (left) and Yesmar Marrero Rivera (right) walk across YSU’s campus. Photo by Rachel Gobep/The Jambar

“We can count on each other for everything. I can tell her anything. We know that we, no matter what, we are not going to betray each other,” Yesmar said.

Everything is much different now for Yesmar — the society, the people and the language. She has achieved things in Youngstown that she doesn’t think would have been possible if she still lived in Puerto Rico.

“It’s not easy, but nothing is impossible,” said the sophomore anthropology major. 

For her first year at YSU, Yesmar’s mother paid for her tuition, which was stressful for the two. The YSU Foundation was able to help. The foundation is an independent nonprofit that pursues, manages and distributes resources to support scholarships and student initiatives at YSU. 

Yesmar is a recipient of the Shorty and Elba Lillian Navarro Scholarship, which has given her the ability to cover some of her tuition. She is continuing the same work ethic she had before receiving scholarships but with more enthusiasm.

“Not everybody can be in the university. Not everybody can have this education,” Yesmar said. “It’s helping me, but it’s also helping my mom.”

Yesarily may have not furthered her education at YSU if it were not for the numerous scholarships she received from the YSU Foundation.

“These scholarships have made a big impact on my life because they helped me get one step closer to my dreams,” she said.

Yesarily is a recipient of the YSU Trailblazer Scholarship, the Chaney Cowboys of 1969 Memorial Scholarship, the William Rayen Memorial Scholarship and the Shorty and Elba Lillian Navarro Scholarship. Through these scholarships, she is able to focus on her education as a junior criminal justice student and not have financial concerns.

Yesarily Sanchez Rivera (left) and Yesmar Marrero Rivera (right) pictured in front of YSU. Photo courtesy of Scott Galvin/YSU

“I want to work hard and not let it go to waste because not everyone gets this opportunity,” Yesarily said. “It means a lot to be able to know [the YSU Foundation] supports my education … because I know that my family doesn’t have the money to pay for it.”

Yesarily was able to buy her first car through her scholarship refunds — something that would not have happened otherwise. 

“I saved the money, and I decided to spend that on transportation to get to college,” she said.

She said being in debt would have caused her to deviate from her plans for the future.

“I would have probably just found a job that pays decent and started college whenever I had enough [money] saved up,” Yesarily said.

One of Yesarily’s goals was to be involved in a leadership position on campus. This year, she became the president of the Latino Student Organization at YSU. Yesmar is a member of the Latino Student Organization, the Forensic Science Club and the Anthropology Colloquium. The cousins both work as Spanish tutors, which is something they each look forward to at the university. 

The cousins have had different homes in the past, but they are thrilled that YSU is now home.

“When I graduate, I feel like I’m really going to miss it because there’s always something going on or to get involved [with],” Yesarily said.

Source: Story330, a venture of Youngstown-area journalists and YSU student journalists.