Merrimack College Student Receives Newman Civic Fellowship

Since high school, Yarielis Perez-Castillo ’24 has advocated for safety, health and education among youth in Lawrence, Massachusetts.
Photo of Yarielis Perez-Castillo standing outdoors.
Campus Compact, a national nonprofit, bestowed Yarielis Perez-Castillo '24 its Newman Civic Fellowship for her community work in Lawrence.

When Yarielis Perez-Castillo ’24 thinks of the community in Lawrence, MA, she thinks of her mother. A Dominican immigrant, Perez-Castillo’s mother, Yahaira Castillo, arrived in the city with very little knowledge of the English language. 

“A lot of people in Lawrence are minorities that speak Spanish,” she said. “They can’t speak for themselves. I want to make it easier for them because I love my community.”

Since attending Lawrence High School, Perez-Castillo has been a fierce advocate for her hometown in many different ways. That advocacy earned her a 2023 Newman Civic Fellowship from Campus Compact, the nation’s oldest higher education association dedicated to higher education civic and community engagement. 

Perez-Castillo’s advocacy work began in the wake of the Parkland School shooting in 2018. As a high school student, she worked to have Methuen High implement student IDs as an increased safety measure. She also met with state representatives at the Massachusetts State House to discuss the importance of safety at schools.

“At the time, school shootings were increasing all around the United States,” she recalled. “I wanted to create a safe space for students to get their education.”

As a freshman at Merrimack, she was part of a research team that organized a youth civic engagement program for middle school students in Lawrence.

“To me, it was important to combat gaps in young people’s academic, emotional and social learning exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic because youth are the change that we need,” she said. “I understood that many of these youth had similar experiences as me and I wanted to be able to provide resources that could allow them to grow and learn.” 

She has also worked alongside local libraries, schools and nonprofits to promote reading, healthy lifestyles and nutrition for Lawrence children.

“I am glad that I am able to share a space with individuals that want to create change in their communities and are able to bounce off ideas on what is working in their communities,” she said.

The Newman Civic Fellowship offers select college students from across the U.S. and Mexico a year of learning and networking opportunities that emphasize personal, professional and civic growth. Such initiatives include virtual training, networking and admittance to the Annual Convening of Newman Civic Fellows, which offers intensive in-person skill-building and networking over the course of two days.

“One of the best parts of the Newman Civic Fellowships is the richness of students’ perspectives, experiences and backgrounds,” said Campus Compact President Bobbie Laur in a prepared statement. “These students will be the catalysts for change on many levels, and we are privileged to help empower them to create that change.”

These networking opportunities will come in handy Perez-Castillo says as she hopes to become a nurse practitioner for underserved communities one day.

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