Looking at a list of causes, organizations and clubs Manchester resident Arielys Liriano Trejo has volunteered for, it's hard to believe she's a freshman in college. But she's just getting started and hopes her degree will be a stepping stone to law school and a career of service to those less fortunate around the globe.
Trejo began her college career Monday thanks in large part to a four-year full scholarship to Southern New Hampshire University. The scholarship - the Boys and Girls Club Opportunity Undergraduate Scholarship - is part of a collaboration between SNHU and the Boston Celtics. Celtics rookie Semi Ojeleye surprised Trejo and a few hundred of her classmates during a first-year student seminar. Dave Hoffman, the Celtics' senior director of community engagement, interviewed Ojeleye on stage about the importance of education. He encouraged the first-year students to take advantage of the chance to learn from professors, but also their classmates.
"Be humble. Try to learn everything you can from your professors and each other," Ojeleye said. "It goes fast."
Trejo said she was surprised to be called on stage but enjoyed talking to Ojeleye. "I was a little bit hesitant ... but it was a good experience. It was pretty cool and I got to meet a new Celtics player," she said.
Later, the former Duke University and Southern Methodist University star presented a custom Celtics jersey to Trejo and the pair had lunch together.
The vital role of education was communicated to Trejo at a very early age. She immigrated to New Hampshire from the Dominican Republic when she was 3 years old, with her father. Her mother came two years later when she received her own visa. Spanish was, and still is, the dominant language at home.
Trejo said her parents knew she would have certain challenges as an immigrant and tried to give her extra support to compensate. They hired a tutor, who came to their home for math and language arts instruction, and enrolled her in educational programs. In the fifth grade she joined Breakthrough Manchester, a program that met during the summers and took students on field trips and helped prepare them for the following school year, Trejo said.
But perhaps the most impactful group Trejo joined in the third grade and hasn't left since. The Boys and Girls Club of Manchester, she said, helped her become the person she is today.
"It became one of my second homes and I've been there for 10 years now," Trejo said.
The Boys and Girls Club has become the hub of Trejo's laundry list of volunteer efforts. A partial list includes working as an academic tutor, the Walk Against Breast Cancer, and the Love Your Neighbor and Day for Kids events. The other groups and events Trejo has volunteered for are too numerous to list. She said it's a straight line from the help and support she received from nonprofit organizations and volunteers when she was young to her desire to help others now.
"I think volunteering is really important because ... Without volunteers, a lot of things wouldn't happen," she said. "To me, volunteering is about giving back, especially to the Manchester community and a lot of the organizations and schools and everything that have helped me out. If it wasn't for volunteers ... I wouldn't be where I am today. I always appreciated volunteers."
Tracey Adams, director of marketing and community relations, at the Boys and Girls Club, said Trejo has made a big impact on the club in the years she's spent there. "She's just very driven, motivated," she said. "I've never seen such a young person so genuinely motivated and wanting to help others. She's so compassionate, caring. She's just an amazing individual."
Steve Thiel, SNHU's senior director of strategic partnerships, said Trejo fit the bill of what SNHU and the Celtics were looking for in a student when they created the scholarship.
"Southern New Hampshire University prides itself on working with partners who care about the local community and those striving to make a difference. With the Boston Celtics and the Manchester Boys and Girls Club, we wanted to identify someone that, even at a young age, has shown a commitment to education and community service beyond their years," he said. "When Arielys applied for the scholarship, she was exactly the type of person we had in mind. She has shown a maturity beyond her years and has made a positive difference for many in Manchester. We're thrilled to have her as a new student and are committed to helping her reach her ambitious goals."
Ambitious is right. Trejo has her sights set high for post-graduation. She is majoring in law and politics and wants first to earn a law degree and someday prosecute war criminals at the International Criminal Court. Another dream is to work as a United Nations ambassador to protect vulnerable people around the globe, she said.
"Being part of an organization that's trying to help all those situations is something I want to do," Trejo said.
But first, for now, she's excited to take the first step with a bachelor's degree. "I'm excited about my classes and I want to join some organizations ... and make the most out of college," she said.