BACK TO THE Y: Iraimi Mercado said she owes a lot to the Old Colony YMCA Life Center in Brockton, a transitional living facility.
Mercado and her family lived there for 4½ years, starting in 2003, when her mother couldn’t afford the rent in their apartment, despite cobbling together incomes from various part-time jobs. Before that, they lived in a motel.
The family, consisting of Iraimi, her two sisters, mother, and stepfather, now live on their own in Brockton. Iraimi, who was graduated from Brockton High School and then Wheaton College in Norton this year, is ready to give back: She was recently named one of the country’s 40 Thomas J. Watson Fellows, and will spend the next year studying YMCA youth programs around the world. A second Wheaton graduate, Adam Goldberg of Seattle, also earned a fellowship.
“The name of my project is ‘The Power of People to Change Lives,’ ” said the 23-year-old Mercado, who works in Old Colony YMCA’s Big Sister Big Brother program as a case aide. “I want to focus on youth development, and see how each YMCA focuses on their youth to meet the needs of their communities.”
She leaves on her journey at the end of this month and will visit Scotland, then Senegal and Sri Lanka, and finally, Peru or Bangladesh. She’ll also spend a little time in London, she said, studying the origins of the YMCA, which was founded there in 1844.
At Wheaton as a sociology major, Mercado was treasurer of iSpeak!, a spoken-word poetry club; a peer adviser for the college’s Center for Global Education; and an ambassador for the Institute for Study Abroad. Mercado also started a mentoring program to help high school junior girls get ready to transition to college.
She said the Old Colony YMCA provided her not only with services, but “made me feel special; they helped me find my passion for service and taught me how to express it.”
She found out about the Watson fellowship through her Wheaton adviser, Lisa Gavigan, herself a Brockton High and Wheaton graduate – and recipient of a Watson fellowship in 1986.
“She was my adviser since freshman year and when I’d talk to her about career and service, she always mentioned the fellowship and asked if I would apply,” Mercado said. “Last summer, I started thinking about it and got heavily interested in it, and the process started in September and lasted through December.”
During the process of applying and explaining why she wanted the fellowship, Mercado, a native of the Dominican Republic who recently earned her US citizenship, discovered a lot about herself.
“I thought I knew myself, but the process made me learn a lot about myself I didn’t know,” she said. “Mostly, the strength I’ve had for the last few years, and how I stayed focused, wanting something more, something different.”
She will have that over the next year or so, staying with host families in unfamiliar lands, living in each country for a little over three months. She will miss her own family terribly, but knows this is an opportunity for growth — and to help others — that she can’t miss.
“When I first found out in March, I was really, really nervous, but the closer I get to the departure date, I’m very excited,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the unknown. There’s always something interesting behind the unknown.”
BUSINESS BRIEFS Steven A. Russo of Bridgewater was promoted to executive vice president/senior investment officer at Plimoth Investment Advisors in Plymouth, a portfolio management firm co-owned by BayCoast Bank and Dedham Institution for Savings. In his post, Russo also writes a quarterly client newsletter, “The Investment Spotlight.” He has worked at large investment institutions before, including Scudder, Stevens Clark, and State Street Global Advisors.
Paul Kopulos of Sharon was named executive director at the Scituate Animal Shelter. Earlier this year, the shelter’s board voted to create the position to bring full-time attention to executing the shelter’s strategic plan and ensuring its continued success, said Jennifer Durkin, president of the shelter board. Kopulos was a shelter volunteer and most recently executive director of the Central Vermont Humane Society in Barre, Vt.
Svetlana Javakhyan of Braintree was named vice president of sales at Wolfson Cutler Real Estate in Medford. She was previously with ERA Boston Real Estate, Coldwell Banker, and Keller Williams, and in 2006 was featured in a Boston Globe Magazine story about young people working in real estate in Boston.