Esperanza Inc., which is celebrating its 35th anniversary as the leading advocate for education in the Hispanic community, awarded more than $100,000 in scholarships at its annual Fiesta of Hope celebration on June 22 at the Cleveland Renaissance Ballroom.
Bishop Nelson Perez was the keynote speaker.
“Your name – Esperanza – means hope. In English, hope is at the center of all things. Hope is a feeling of expectation and a desire for a certain thing to happen. This organization, for 35 years, has put faith and hope into young people. This organization makes education happen,” Bishop Perez said. “A lot of things make us (Hispanics) happen – family, rice and beans,” he quipped, as the audience laughed, “and education.”
“Everything you have is a gift,” he said, telling the young people to hold on to their gifts and to be thankful for them. He also encouraged them to pay it forward so others also will have the chance to succeed.
“As a Hispanic/Latino, I see myself in these young people,” he said reflecting on his childhood. “I didn’t attend kindergarten and when I went to first grade, I didn’t know anyone. I spent most of first grade crying,” he said, adding that cultural differences also caused some difficulties for his family. “Hold onto your hope,” he told the students.
Two scholarship winners also shared their stories with the more than 700 attendees at the lunch program. The first Student Spotlight speaker was Abraham Lopez, who immigrated from Columbia and became a United States citizen just two months ago. He talked about the difficulties he had, including the language barrier. “I felt alone; I didn’t feel welcome,” he said. He joined Esperanza and excelled in school. His goal is to become a doctor, he said, after seeing the difference a doctor made with his compassion and care for Abraham’s 2-year-old brother who accidentally drank a toxic cleaning solution, which eventually caused his death. “He made a difference. He cared for my brother and gave him joy,” he said. Abraham will begin his freshman year at Cleveland State University in the fall.
Nyleishca Gonzalez, the second Student Spotlight speaker, said her parents made some poor choices, which resulted in her premature birth. “I was a crack baby,” she said. She was adopted by her aunt and eventually they moved to Cleveland. Nyleishca’s mother died from her addiction at a young age and her father was killed in a car accident. She talked about being bullied in elementary school because she didn’t speak English. She joined Esperanza while attending Lincoln West High School in Cleveland. “I decided to be proud of my Hispanic heritage,” she said. Nyleishca graduated with honors from Lincoln West and is entering her sophomore year at Cleveland State. She hopes to become a child care worker.
Students who participate in Esperanza’s post-secondary program have been successful in college, with 88 percent continuing their education, a percentage much higher than the national average.
“The vast majority of our students are balancing family, financial and cultural challenges in addition to the rigor of a college curriculum,” said Victor Ruiz, Esperanza executive director. “That is why the work of Esperanza over the last 35 years – to provide financial assistance and support resources – is essential to ensuring our students’ success in high school and in college. We are definitely seeing that our comprehensive post-secondary support program is, in fact, having a direct, positive impact.” Esperanza has awarded more than $1.6 million in scholarships to more than 1,100 students in the past 35 years.
For more information on Esperanza, visit esperanzainc.org.