Victoria Teresa Arias dreamed of saving lives as a trauma surgeon.
Those dreams live on as her family works to help other young people realize their goals for attending college through the Victoria Teresa Arias Memorial Foundation.
“We really want to keep Victoria’s legacy alive. The mission of the foundation is to educate and empower our youth. That is what we want to do more than anything — be there to help the youth in the community and give back to the community that has given us so much over the last two years,” said Mike Arias, Victoria’s father.
The effort is bittersweet for Mike and Victoria’s mother, Lorena, who started the foundation shortly after Victoria drowned while swimming laps in the family pool on July 12, 2017.
An accomplished volleyball player and violinist who played and sang mariachi, Victoria had recently graduated with honors from San Miguel High School and had accepted a $250,000 scholarship to study biochemistry at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. The Tucson native was slated to become the first person in her family to attend college, and with her aptitude for math and chemistry, she was determined to become the family’s first physician.
“She was a perfectly healthy young lady who was six weeks away from leaving for college when the accident happened. It was a shock to all of us,” said Mike.
In the midst of their shock, the family was galvanized into action.
“We know if we weren’t doing any of this, our daughter would be with us, but that can’t change and we know that she is in a better place. Early on, we embraced the roles of being her messengers, and it gives our lives meaning to wake up every morning and have things to do for the foundation. More than anything, we want to give a full-ride scholarship in her name. We know that day will come and when it does, it will be very exciting,” Mike said.
The foundation is well on its way to accomplishing that goal. After staging the inaugural A Night to Remember Victoria Teresa Arias-dinner and dance last spring, it awarded three scholarships of $2,000 each to college-bound local high school students.
Fundraising continues with the planning of A Very Victorious Golf Tournament at Sewailo Golf Club on May 31, followed by the second annual A Night to Remember Victoria Teresa Arias dinner and dance on June 1 at Casino Del Sol.
Last week, the foundation announced that three 2019 scholarship recipients had been chosen from a pool of 69 applicants. The scholarship is offered to students from Desert View, Sunnyside, San Miguel, Cholla, Tucson and Pueblo high schools and students involved with Youth On Their Own.
Mike and Lorena, who have owned VIP Printing & Promotions for 15 years, believe the foundation’s efforts are impacting lives.
“When Victoria learned she had received her full-ride scholarship, it was life-changing for her and for us as well ... the knowledge that she wouldn’t have the financial burden of worrying about grants and loans and that she could just concentrate on her studies was such a great feeling. We want to give that feeling to another student and his or her parents,” Mike said.
Victoria’s characteristic determination and commitment to saving lives has played out unexpectedly in another way: The 18-year-old was an organ donor whose kidneys, liver, lungs, heart and pancreas saved four lives in Arizona and California. The family has begun the process of attempting to meet the recipients in hopes of someday sharing Victoria’s story and organ donation awareness and education has become a cornerstone of the foundation’s work.
“When they donated her organs after the accident happened, we said, ‘Victoria just skipped 10 years of school and started saving lives immediately,’” said Mike.
Overall, the Arias family recognizes that despite their great loss, they have been blessed by the many family members, friends, businesses and sponsors — including Casino Del Sol — who have come together to form “Team Tori.”
“We have a huge family and all of our family and friends have surrounded us during the hard times. We have been very fortunate to have the support and help needed not only in getting through the tragedy, but in starting the foundation and doing good things in Victoria’s name,” Mike said.
Lorena attributes everything they have accomplished to their incredible daughter.
“This is all her. We call it our ‘Victoria’s magic.’ She puts the right people in place for us; it is her working her magic,” Lorena said.