CAMP director to retire after 23 years, scholarship named in her honor


CAMP students pose in the Mabee Ballroom with program director Esther Yacono at anniversary celebration. 

A “milagro” is an item that reflects a gift or quality that they offer to the program and the university. Students have given milagros to Yacono as well, and they adorn the wall in her office, reflecting 23 years of service to students with backgrounds similar to hers.

As a tradition of CAMP, or College Assistance Migrant Program, students receive a milagro during their orientation, or enrichment. At the end of the current fiscal year, CAMP Director Esther Yacono will pack up her blessed milagros and transition into retirement life, but not without leaving behind a legacy with a scholarship in her name.

“It’s been a privilege to work with the CAMP students,” said Yacono. “My father was a migrant, and I never realized or appreciated what he did until now.”

Yacono’s position requires keeping CAMP up and running. Established in 1972, the program accepts 35 students a year from migrant farmworker families, often first generation college students. Yacono’s role in CAMP has been to manage a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, coordinate with the advancement office and meet with donors and foundations to ensure that the program continues year after year.

President George E. Martin announced the Esther Q. Yacono Honorary Endowed Scholarship at the CAMP 45 anniversary, a gathering of current and former classes.

Approximately $2.5 million from alumnus Larry Meyers’ will is reserved for the CAMP program, a portion of which will create the scholarship endowment in Yacono’s name, generating $5,000 each year in perpetuity.

Former CAMP student Geronimo Rodriguez helped coordinate the creation of the scholarship after the university’s development office approached Seton Healthcare about contributing to the new scholarship. Along with Meyers’ and Seton’s gifts, as well as staff members and other donors, the new scholarship has received commitments totaling more than $129,000.

“What I love about Seton is the mission — we are called to be advocates for a compassionate and just society with our work and actions,” said Rodriguez.

Now the chief advocacy officer at Seton, Rodriguez felt a familial bond with fellow CAMPers during his time at St. Edward’s and believed that honoring Yacono through the scholarship was only natural. “The fact that I told my story about how I had been a CAMP student… helped them understand that this is something that we needed to do,” said Rodriguez.

Although she looks forward to retirement, Yacono feels bittersweet about her career reaching its end. “I’m going to miss the students a lot,” said Yacono. “It means a lot to me that I can look back and feel like I made a difference somewhere.”

The hiring process is underway to fill Yacono’s position, but some students aren’t quite ready to say goodbye.

“I wasn’t sure of myself as a student, but she reassured me every time I went into her office,” said CAMP student Cindy Gutierrez. “All of us look up to her.”