United States Marine Corps veteran Mitch Rivas enrolled at Union Institute & University under unusual circumstances – the illness of one of his 1-year-old twin daughters, Maryssa, in 2014.
Rivas and his wife were at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center because of Maryssa’s rare heart condition, when in walked Dr. Nelson Soto, Union Institute & University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, and his wife Ana.
“Our church House of Praise International in Lorain, Ohio posted our story among the congregation and it reached a friend of a friend in Cincinnati. After a four-hour ambulance ride, Nelson was the first person to welcome me to Cincinnati. Nelson and Ana opened their home to us and our four children. Not only were we able to stay with them, but we found that we shared a strong faith in God,” said Rivas. “As our friendship blossomed, we began to share our life stories with each other. I explained that I had attended a community college after being discharged from the United States Marine Corps, but didn’t like college and really didn’t see the need for a college degree. I told him I had a good job with the United States Postal Service and didn’t see how a degree would benefit me.”
Dr. Soto quickly pointed out that a college degree would advance Rivas’s career in the postal service.
“I told Mitch he was the ideal Union student. Veterans, by the very nature of their training, have acquired leadership and organizational skills, and also discipline,” said Dr. Soto. “A college degree is the most outward-facing seal of quality that an individual can demonstrate. A college degree is recognized throughout the world. I knew that Mitch would be successful, but also, our flexible model would allow time to deal with the issues he was facing with his young daughter.”
“Nelson encouraged me to give college another shot – this time at Union Institute & University,” said Rivas. “And this time, it worked. Folks in every office and department helped me succeed, holding my hand throughout the enrollment process. Union’s Registrar Lew Rita Moore worked personally with me to expand my VA benefits. She and her staff orchestrated the process of getting my previous college credits transferred from the community college I attended in 2004-2005, along with the credits I earned with The Marine Corps Institute while I was on active duty.”
Fast forward to September 2016 and Rivas not only completed his Bachelor’s in Leadership in 2015, but will graduate with his Master of Science in Organizational Leadership (MSOL) at Union’s national commencement on October 8.
During this time, Maryssa’s health struggle continued. On the United States Marine Corps birthday, November 10, 2015, Maryssa underwent a complete heart rebuild. Her new heart was too strong for her lungs and she passed away three days later.
When this tragedy struck, Rivas was in the second term of the (MSOL).
“I wrestled for weeks about quitting the MSOL program because my goals were now irrelevant. In this time of reflection, I remembered the driving force and verse of Maryssa’s Journey; Romans 8:28 Where the Lord promises to use ALL things together for good. (The good, the bad, the ugly, and the heart breaking),” said Rivas. “I continued and pressed on through the next two modules. All of my future assignments turned away from focusing on my career at the USPS and took on a new focus of the transition from Maryssa’s Journey to Maryssa’s Mission Foundation (MMF). We always felt that Maryssa would accompany us around the world boasting what a miracle her heart surgeries were, when we lost her we felt cheated until I checked our email messages. We had received messages from Cambodia, the UK, India, and many other countries. It was then, that I understood, Maryssa’s testimony had already made it around the world.”
Rivas used his MSOL leadership approaches, theories, principles and capstone project to form and design the strategic plan for the nonprofit Maryssa’s Mission Foundation to serve the families of medically fragile children.
Since its inception, it has provided love, meals, and temporary aid to over 150 families. Their motto is “To be the blessing we prayed to receive.”
So, what’s next for the Rivas family?
“With the partnership of our children’s hospitals, various Ronald McDonald Homes, and our private and corporate donors we are able to carry out the promise our foundation sets to accomplish. We aspire to change and positively impact the lives of families facing the challenges of caring for a medically fragile child,” said Rivas. “To celebrate the completion of the MSOL program on Saturday, October 8 we are taking the festivities back to where this journey started. On October 7th we will be blessing the Cardiac ICU and A-6-Central unit at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, both units that cared for Maryssa. We will be bringing goodies for the staff and goody bags for the families that are calling the hospital their temporary home. We will finish the evening at the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) where we are preparing dinner for the families. It will be a night of food, fellowship, and crafts for the families. Our long term goal at the MMF will be to assist and provide housing to families who are on the RMH waiting list so that they can be near their child when it matters most.”