His first trip to Mexico changed Dwane McFerrin’s life. While studying abroad in Merida, Dwane ’80 started dating his future wife, Sue Berkompas McFerrin ’81. On his next trip, more than 25 years later, Dwane met another young woman who would change his life again — and the lives of his family members.
Her name was Virginia Esperanza Rodriguez May. Esperanza, as she’s known, was then a 17-year-old living in the orphanage where Dwane’s daughter, Kim McFerrin Cyboron ’08, was doing community service while studying abroad. Dwane recalls being struck by the contrast when he saw the two young women together. “When I first saw her sitting next to our daughter, it occurred to me that they were similar, but so different. One girl with every opportunity at her fingertips and one with no breaks, no parents, nothing.”
After their return to Iowa, Dwane and Sue began talking about the differences between Kim and Esperanza — their backgrounds, their opportunities, their dreams. They decided to return to Merida to see if they could help Esperanza in some way.
Once there, Dwane met with George Ann Huck, now retired director of the Central College Abroad program in Merida, to learn more about Esperanza and what the future held for her. With Huck acting as his interpreter, McFerrin discovered that once she turned 18, Esperanza would be removed from the orphanage and would most likely become homeless. “We instantly decided that couldn’t happen,” says Dwane. “So we met with Esperanza and presented our idea that we’d give her the opportunity to go to college — as long as she would work hard to earn her degree.”
It was during this initial conversation with Esperanza that Dwane and Sue discovered how growing up in an orphanage can lead to a different worldview. “When I asked her about her goals for the future, I realized that, when someone is a ward of the state, they don’t develop dreams and goals,” says Dwane. “She didn’t initially understand the concept of going to college so that she could take care of herself in the future.”
But Esperanza did agree to let the McFerrins help her. With Huck’s assistance, they were able to find a place for her to live and get her enrolled in the Universidad Mesoamericana de San Agustin — a metro university in Merida. Although the McFerrins provided the financial assistance, Huck was their liaison on the ground in Mexico, especially during difficult situations. After the first year, they had to find a new living situation for Esperanza. “George Ann understands the social system and how everything works there,” says Dwane. “I don’t know how we would have done that without her.”
Throughout Esperanza’s college experience, the McFerrins travelled to Merida twice a year to check on her — to see how her education was progressing and how she was doing personally. “We basically became her adoptive parents and watched a young girl who was afraid and didn’t know what would happen next become a smiling, confident person — someone with an opportunity many others do not have,” Dwane says.
In July, Esperanza graduated with a degree in organizational psychology. She has been accepted into the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s intensive English program for the fall semester. The McFerrins learned on July 14 that Esperanza’s application for a student visa was accepted. “This was no small task,” says Sue McFerrin. “It is a complicated process, and without George Ann’s help, it would have been very difficult to get us to this point.”
Esperanza will stay with the McFerrins throughout the four-month program, from August to December. Dwane says it’s a reward for her good grades. “Combined with her education, the program will help open more doors for job opportunities.”
Esperanza’s new life, the McFerrins’ generosity, the inclusion of a new family member — it all goes back to their alma mater. “Without that initial experience while at Central, who knows how things might have worked out?” says Dwane. “Central College and our Central connection helped us make a difference in the life of one person — and it’s been a very rewarding experience for all of us.”