Thirty-three years ago, a group of teachers and friends sat around a kitchen table feeling frustrated. In their view, Latinx students—mostly from Holyoke—were not receiving enough scholarship support to pursue college educations.
They doubled down and launched the Latino Scholarship Fund, now hosted at the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. The Fund has since delivered for local Latinx students, according to the Fund’s board president, Myriam Quiñones.
She credits steady donations, a lawsuit that amplified the students’ educational needs, a signature annual fundraising event, the Community Foundation’s stewardship, and a laser focus Latinx students’ unique strengths and challenges.
The Fund’s organizers count hundreds of students across Western Massachusetts, many from Holyoke, who have benefitted from the scholarship fund since 1988. (Each year, six scholarships are earmarked for Holyoke college-bound residents.) In 2020, 12 students received $1,500 scholarships toward their college expenses. Six volunteers, mostly educators, review the applications each year.
Quiñones said, “For more than five decades, Holyoke and Springfield have been the hub for Latino communities—especially Puerto Ricans—in Western Massachusetts. They come here and live, work, and raise their families. And so that’s three or four generations living and working and contributing to the area, now rich in Latino culture.”
It’s not surprising that Quiñones describes the Latino Scholarship Fund’s annual fundraising banquet as a celebration and a social event—with Latinx community pride at its core.
Friends, colleagues, scholarship awardees, and former scholarship recipients gather, eat, and tell stories, all to “keep rooted and maintain our promise to support Latinx students,” she said. “We celebrate the students that receive scholarships from the Fund each year and honor folks who have contributed to the betterment of our Latinx students and the community.”
Two awards are presented annually at the dinner. One is the Carlos Vega Community Champion Award, which honors people who contribute leadership and service to the Latinx community. Quiñones is a 2008 recipient. Another, the Antonia Pantoja Award, honors people who contribute to the Latinx community through research and education.
Quiñones says, “The most beautiful moment of the whole celebration is listening to the scholars’ speeches. Those are the ones that warm your heart. They’re raw, emotional, and deep. It’s breathtaking.”
The Scholarship Fund continues to evolve, layering supports onto financial aid.
Quiñones reports, “We’ve started workshops for scholars on how to prepare—what they need to do to be successful in the process from being accepted to entering college. And we want to continue to follow those students and their stories and to have them come back and serve their communities as board members or as friends of the Fund in one way or another.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Scholarship Fund annual celebration was hosted online in 2020 and will be held virtually again in 2021. Ticket information for the June 22 event will be available at eventbrite.com. Learn more about the Community Foundation’s scholarship program.