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Baruch Freshman Melida Arias Scores Home Run with Yankees HOPE Program

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Melida Arias, 17-year-old Baruch College freshman, has a clear vision for what she'd like to do in the future —and unparalleled ambition to do it. Just a few short months ago, Melida, along with her older sister Johanna, was chosen to be part of the Yankees HOPE (Helping Others Persevere and Excel) Week program, which recognizes outstanding individuals throughout the country who are overcoming adversity to achieve their goals. Melida had been living with her disabled mother in a homeless shelter when she learned that the Yankees were interested in talking to her. A guidance counselor at Melida’s high school had submitted her name to the pool of HOPE Week nominees. On Friday, August 20, 2010, Yankees team members, including Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Ramiro Pena, Francisco Cervelli, Sergio Mitre, David Robertson, and Bench Coach Tony Pena, surprised Melida at her job and took her and her sister on a shopping spree at DKNY, where Melida got to pick out clothes for her first year at Baruch College. Later, the sisters threw out the first pitch at a Yankee game together.

It was clear right away to HOPE program directors that Melida Arias was a hardworking young woman. Not only was she able to keep up excellent grades in school despite the instability of shelter life, she also spent her summer behind a fast food counter, helping to put food on the table and pay bills when things were especially tight at home. Being born and raised in the baseball team's home borough of the Bronx also didn’t hurt.

In honoring Melida during HOPE Week, the Yankees sought to recognize all that she was managing, not only as a homeless individual but also as a teenager coping with difference. For Melida, homelessness also meant having to endure ridicule and bullying from peers—so much so that she decided to transfer high schools to Bronx Leadership Academy, from which she graduated in the top third of her class.

Today, she says, these experiences have made her a stronger person—and have played a pivotal role in helping her decide early on that she’d like to become a psychologist. “I feel like I could be someone who could show people how to make life’s unavoidable problems easier to manage. I want to help people deal with it mentally, the same way I did,” she says.

If you didn’t already know her story, it would be difficult to imagine that the bright and positive person that Melida is today is the same person who’s overcome all that she has. Her lighthearted demeanor and bright, seemingly perpetual smile quickly broadcast that she’s excited about life, and indeed, she has reason to be. Education, Melida says, has always served as an outlet for growth in her life—and she’s especially excited to have started her college education at Baruch. “I liked the environment right away. Here, you are responsible for your own success,” she says. “I feel like it’s just what I’ve been waiting for. I like how Baruch breeds independence and individuality. It’s taken me a lot to feel like I can open myself up again, but I notice myself changing and growing.”

Arias expects to continue her relationship with the Yankees by starting a paid internship with the team in coming months.