Esperanza means "hope" in Spanish, and that's at the direct heart of the Ontario-based nonprofit that bears the name. The Esperanza Scholarship Foundation was established in 1991 by a group of successful business people in the Inland Valley who wanted to provide a vehicle for students to achieve their educational goals and to help make their dreams come true.
Although the organization and its work are strongly represented in the local Hispanic community, both are open to students of all ethnicities. The only prerequisites are good grades and hard work. Both were in plenty supply this year when the group distributed 64 scholarships totaling more than $100,000.
Each year, the scholarships are given in a lavish and festive ceremony at the Gardiner W. Spring Auditorium on the Chaffey High School campus in Ontario.
The night is billed as the Ontario Mayor's Gala, but the spotlight always in on the students. That was the case again this year. More than 1,500 people packed the auditorium to celebrate commitment, dedication and community support. In addition to the local high school students who were feted, the night honored Gary and Deborah George for their continual contributions to education.
Alex Espinoza is the chairman of the Esperanza Scholarship Foundation board of directors. Listeners can't help but hear the intense pride in his voice as he recounts not only the night but of the group's accomplishments during the past 11 years.
"The night is all about celebrating the accomplishments of students who have put in their time. But it is more than that. What we are doing is creating a community. What we have always done and will continue to do is to plant within all our award recipients the idea of giving back to the community which has stood by them and will continue to stand by them," Espinoza said.
The mission of the nonprofit has been clear since day one -- to support students and their efforts to further their educations by mentoring them and providing financial assistance. The organization also wants to continue to work toward closing the educational achievement gap for all students.
The monetary scholarships range from $1,000 to $5,000 for each student. But every scholarship also requires a commitment from its recipient to perform at least 25 hours of community service.
"To be considered for scholarships, we want students who demonstrate previous academic success and involvement in their schools and communities. The scholarships are very helpful, but what we really want to do is teach these students that there is money out there that they can go out and get for their educations. Most importantly, we want them to know that this community is here for them," he said.
Espinoza said each year he remains inspired by the efforts of the students and community to help make dreams into realities.
"The awards night is wonderful, but the work continues all year. We have a fall social gathering event, we invite our scholars back to hear about their progress and we have a leadership training dinner. We are a very diverse group but at the center of everything we do is to help those who need it. We welcome individuals who want to do the same," Espinoza said.
In addition to the traditional role of providing scholarships, the Foundation also works with middle school students, teachers and other fundraising opportunities to help young people.
The Foundation supports college student professional enrichment/networking seminars, the Community College Transfer College Partnership, Online to College, stellar teacher classroom grants, summer academy for middle school students and Together We Rise.
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