Trio of Triumph
The Torres trio of Marisol, Marybel and Victor were among eight Farmersville High School seniors to be awarded the $5,000 Horatio Alger, Jr. scholarship this month.
The scholarship is named after renowned author Horatio Alger, Jr., whose tales of overcoming adversity through unyielding perseverance and basic moral principles captivated the public in the late 19th century. The scholarship’s mission is to provide financial assistance to California students who have exhibited integrity and perseverance in overcoming personal adversity and who aspire to pursue higher education.
Farmersville High School Principal Ernie Flores said the story of the Torres family would be a fitting tale for one of Alger’s novels.
“Their perseverance, determination and will to succeed is an unbelievable testimony to their lives,” Flores said. “It serves as an example to use in our community and our own lives.”
The first chapter of the Torres’ tale begins, unfortunately, like many in the Valley, with a single mother struggling to raise four children including her youngest Johanny.
“I think the hardest part was seeing our mom struggle and watching other kids who had a father while ours left,” Marisol said. “He left and never said a word.”
Despite their struggles, the Torres children found strength in each other and their mother, Elisa Olivera. They were poor but always together and always with a place to call home. But in 2008 that was taken away, too. A fire destroyed the home Olivera was renting and everything in it. Investigators started asking questions, interviewing the children separately to find out if they or their mother had started the fire intentionally. Soon after Olivera was arrested for arson and her children turned over to foster care.
“We didn’t have any family nearby that could take us in,” said Marybel, the 17-year-old twin sister of Marisol. “They tried to separate us between the boys and the girls but we didn’t want that to happen.”
After one day at a home in Porterville, a foster family in Farmersville volunteered to take in all four children. Living in a single room, the four siblings made the best of a difficult situation by spending more time at school through clubs, sports and activities.
“I felt like I grew up a lot faster than my peers,” Marybel said. “I was more focused. When my friends were talking about what they were doing afterschool I was moving to the next thing to get done. I know I don’t want to struggle financially in the future, so I had to focus on what needed to be done.”
That lasted a year until Olivera was released from jail. The Torres family was finally reunited, if only for a short time. In 2010, Olivera was arrested again and the Torres children would have been split up if not for another selfless woman. But this time, it was their older sister, Elisabeth Legaspi, who took them in. Marisol said the four of them went to live with Elisabeth’s boyfriend’s family. Tragedy struck again when the house foreclosed and all six of them found themselves looking for a home. Luckily, one of Elisabeth’s co-workers was kind enough to open her home to the four teens.
“My [oldest] sister was pregnant so she had a lot on her shoulders and I was the oldest of the four of us, so I had to take on a lot more responsibility,” said the 19-year-old Victor. “I made sure everyone was doing Ok, that everyone had something to eat and find a way to help out with money. I give thanks to God, we could not have asked for more.”
Today the Torres family has been reunited once more. Olivera is living in low-income housing with her four children – Victor, Marisol and Marybel and Johanny. Victor is treasurer for the Association Student Body, president of the Spanish Club, vice president of the Science Olympiad Team, plays for the boys soccer squad, runs cross country and does landscaping on the weekends to help out with the bills.
“Being involved has given me a connection to my classmates, helped me take my mind of stress and be a role model for my sisters,” Victor said.
Marybel is Senior Class president, ASB vice president, a member of Key Club, Spanish Club, AVID, Friends of Rachel (an anti-bullying/school violence prevention group) in dance, is first chair in the marching band drumline and played volleyball. An ankle injury prevented her from playing basketball and softball which she has played since her freshman year. She also works as a tutor.
“Being busy is normal for me and I know education is the key to open the door of success,” she said. “I try and take advantage of every minute of every day.”
Marisol is ASB President, Spanish Club treasurer, a member of Key Club, Friends of Rachel, Senior Class vice president, AVID treasurer and has played volleyball all four years.
“Farmersville High School is a great place to get involved,” Marisol said. “The teachers support you, the administrators care about you and everyone is friendly.”
Victor, Marybel and Marisol are all enrolled in TRIO, a program through the Department of Education to provide low-income, rural students whose parents did not attend college with better opportunities to continue their education. The program pays for tuition and books for the three to take COS courses prior to graduating from high school. All three plan on earning at least a bachelor’s degree after graduating from high school in June. Victor plans on majoring in environmental science, minoring in international business with an emphasis in pest and fruit science. Marybel hasn’t decided between studying international business or physical therapy, but knows she wants to travel either way. Marisol plans on majoring in either sociology, psychology or both.
“Students like these are the reason I do what I do for a living,” Principal Flores said. “Our goal is to spend our lives teaching students, but often we don’t realize the life lessons we are learning from our students.”
The other five Farmersville High School students to receive the Horatio Alger Scholarship were Wendy Jiminez, Michelle Ayala, Elvia Olea, Yessica Barrios and Marylou Covarrubias. Farmersville was the only California high school to have more than two scholarship recipients. Tulare County boasted the highest number of recipients with a total of 11 including students from Granite Hills and Porterville High Schools.