Editor’s Note: Despite the necessary adjustment to virtual instruction for part of this semester, more than 6,000 talented Fresno State students will earn their degrees in May and move on to become the next generation of leaders in the Central Valley and beyond. While every hardworking graduate deserves to be recognized, for the rest of the semester we will be sharing the inspiring stories of graduates like this one who have achieved at the highest levels or have overcome remarkable challenges. As University President Joseph I. Castro previously announced, the University looks forward to celebrating all of its deserving graduates at an in-person ceremony at a later date when it is deemed safe to do so.
While walking through the streets of San Francisco when she was 7 years old, Ariel Mendez remembers seeing a man holding a sign that read, “hungry.” She and her dad had just finished lunch, and she got his permission to give the man her leftovers. This is the first memory Mendez has of helping the homeless.
Mendez has always loved school and valued her education. Growing up in Tulare, education was an outlet for her.
As Mendez grew into a young woman, she continually felt driven to help others. While attending Tulare Union High School, she created a club called “Be The Change.” The club collected donations of new socks that the students gave to the homeless for winter. For Mendez, this was just the beginning of her efforts to help those around her.
Seeing the impact of donating socks to the homeless ignited a flame inside Mendez. She knew she had the power to do so much more.
“God put this in my heart,” Mendez said. “I have always seen myself as second, and I put others first.”
Mendez would continually visit the homeless and donate items of need. She noticed water and toothbrushes were a priority, so she would visit her local Costco and use her personal savings to stock up on supplies.
In June 2019, Mendez conducted her first large-scale donation to the homeless. She took to social media and asked her followers to donate any clothing they no longer needed. She received an overwhelming amount of support from her family and community. With a car full of donated clothes, she researched which states had the worst homelessness, and she started to drive. Mendez was able to reach five states in five days, donating all of the clothing to the homeless. She conducted a second round of donations and was then able to visit nine states in 10 days.
During her efforts to give, she has studied to become a teacher. She will graduate this May with her bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and a multiple subject teaching credential. As a transfer student from the College of the Sequoias, Mendez enrolled in the Fresno State Visalia Campus’ Integrated Teacher Education Program. The program allows students to transfer from a partner community college in the South Valley to the Fresno State Visalia Campus and complete a bachelor’s degree and teaching credential in just two additional years, all while staying in the South Valley.
Fresno State is celebrating its first graduating cohort from the program. With a graduating class of 28 students, cohorts have been growing year over year, with an expected enrollment of 50 students for fall 2020.
“Ariel will be an example of a teacher committed to social justice that we hope for from the South Valley [program],” said Dr. Frederick Peinado Nelson, associate professor and chair of the Department of Liberal Studies. “Her passion and dedication have been present throughout the program and have spread among many of her colleagues in the cohort. We are proud of her as a graduate of the first cohort of the South Valley [program].”
Mendez said she has always wanted to be a champion for children. Through teaching, she will be able to give love, support and nourishment to children.
In true Mendez fashion, she is dedicating her first teaching paycheck to go completely to helping people in need. She has already accepted a position with the Peace Corps. Once travel restrictions are lifted, Mendez plans to travel to Africa to work as a teacher. “My job as a teacher,” Mendez said, “would be to improve the English language speaking, writing, teaching and learning capacity of students, teachers, schools and communities in order to improve access to academic and/or professional opportunities, information and resources.”