Wheaton College Grad Serving International YMCAs
Iraimi Mercado spent her high school years in a transitional living program operated by the YMCA in Brockton, Mass., because her family lost its home.
Now, four years later, she is graduating from Wheaton College in nearby Norton, Mass., as one of the nation's 40 Thomas J. Watson Fellows. She will spend the next year studying YMCA youth programs around the world - from Scotland to Bangladesh.
“The YMCA provided me with many opportunities and services. Though this was priceless, it was the small things that helped me grow and become successful,” Mercado says. “The people of the Y cared for my well-being. They made me feel special. They helped me find my passion for service and taught me how to express it.”
A sociology major, Mercado has served as the treasurer of iSpeak!, a spoken word poetry club at Wheaton, a peer advisor for the college's Center for Global Education, and an ambassador for the Institute for Study Abroad. She also created a mentoring program that aims to help high school junior girls to prepare to successfully transition to the college culture.
The YMCA holds a special place in Mercado’s heart. The organization provided critical support when her family was going through challenging times. Now, she plans to give back on a global scale as a recent winner of the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship.
Mercado was one of two Wheaton students selected from a pool of 700 candidates for the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, a one-year grant for independent study and travel outside of the United States. The fellowship funds students of “unusual promise” who have the desire and ability to explore a topic that is personally significant to them.
During her Watson travel, Mercado will explore YMCAs around the world and learn the different building blocks of positive youth development. She will begin her journey in Glasgow, Scotland, and travel to Dakar, Senegal; Dhaka, Bangladesh; and Negombo, Sri Lanka.
Working with YMCA staffs in the various locations, Mercado hopes to discover each culture’s particular method of supporting and empowering youth and community.
“I will work with young people directly to try to give them an understanding of my YMCA experience while simultaneously experiencing theirs,” she says. “I believe that the people at the different Ys will benefit from the experiences that I have gained through my years of working with children. They will be able to gain a different perspective on how to serve youth and families in their communities.”
Mercado currently works as a case aid at Old Colony YMCA’s Big Sister-Big Brother program. Working as a youth counselor, she witnessed the Y’s purposeful, strategic approach in helping families.
“As a youth counselor for five years, I used these principles as a framework for helping the kids in my group. I’ve experienced great satisfaction in being able to help them discover their own ‘specialness,’” she says.
The soft-spoken poet also notes that iSpeak! has been one of the highlights of her experience at Wheaton. “In iSpeak!, we use our poems, discussions and campus events to shed light on the multiple diversities between us all as humans. Most importantly, I learned the power that my voice possesses and how to use it to speak out on the things that I am most passionate about.”