Five Brazos County residents and several students were honored with awards and scholarships worth $90,000 at the Hispanic Forum's annual gala last week.
Organizers and sponsors collaborated to provide 52 students with the unprecedented amount of scholarship money at the 14th Annual Scholarship Gala.
"It's about the community helping the community," said Marie Portales-Rodriguez, public relations director for the forum.
Johnny Yeppez, County Veterans Services Officer, was named Person of the Year for helping more than 8,500 Brazos County veterans in need.
As a retired U.S. Army first sergeant, Yeppez helps veterans acquire education funds, homes and land. Yeppez said he was informed that in April a group of veterans wrote to the forum about how he's changed their lives, prompting his award.
"It's not just an award to me," he said. "It represents all the faces I've helped in past, now and in the future."
Through assisting senior citizens with her Amigos del Valle de Brazos nonprofit organization and organizing exhibits and other community events bringing light to Hispanic contributions, Dorothy Hernandez won the Lifetime Achievement Award.
"Being a Brazos County Hispanic resident means a lot to me," she said. "We have been a minority so long here."
Hernandez is working toward getting a community-based senior citizens center in Bryan, her hometown.
For his first award from the Hispanic community, Jesse Montelongo Jr., received the Business of the Year award as owner of Montelongo's Fine Jewelry.
Montelongo has contributed to the forum for the past six years and served on the board of the United Way Foundation and the Rotary Club of College Station advisory board, and was chairman of Clothes for Kids.
"The award meant recognition from other Hispanics in the community and respect from peers and other business owners," he said.
Montelongo said he was glad to see his 12-year-old daughter Kaley, who attended the event, be "proud of her dad" when he received the award.
Portales-Rodriguez said not all awards are the same each year, nor are they all given out each year.
But this year was an award-heavy one, a gala bedazzled with signature art pieces, sound and special effects.
Rudy Grimaldo Jr., owner of RDM Audio, made the ambiance possible, said Portales-Rodriguez.
Two people received Presidential Excellence Awards, which were awarded for outstanding accomplishments or significant roles in the community.
Linda Asberry, principal of R.C. Neal Elementary School in Bryan, received the award for her efforts to improve the lives of children in Brazos County. The Texas Education Agency gave the elementary school "recognized" and "exemplary" designations under her leadership.
Pursing a graduate degree in education at Texas A&M University, Jose Zelaya also received the Presidential Excellence Award. Born into poverty in Honduras and later separated from his parents by Hurricane Mitch, Zelaya was targeted by Honduran criminals, shot in both arms, and traveled alone to eventually be reunited with his mother.
Zelaya recently ran for student body president at Texas A&M, becoming the first undocumented student to run in the public election process.
As Student of the Year, Robert Tarin-Carlos received a $10,000 scholarship toward pursuing a biomedical science degree at A&M. Tarin-Carlos was inducted into the National Honor Society with a 4.1 GPA at Bryan High School and has completed more than 400 hours of volunteer work for the Boys and Girls Club.
The influx of worthy candidates resulted in hefty scholarships this year, with $5,000 going to Maria Salazar, also a National Honor Society member from Bryan High School. Salazar plans on pursuing a criminal justice degree at Sam Houston State University.
Of the 52 recipients, 72 percent held GPAs of 3.5 or better, Portales-Rodriguez said.
Cesia Sanchez was one of those students, with a 3.9 GPA at A&M Consolidated High School.
Sanchez received a $3,000 scholarship toward her pursuit of double-majoring in international business and religious studies at UCLA. Sanchez was a member of the Business Professionals of America Club in high school.
"The important thing was for us to ensure that we put an emphasis on bridging the education gap and getting local kids connected," Portales-Rodriguez said.
Other scholarships ranged from $800 to $1,500, and A&M's Scholarships and Financial Aid office surprised six incoming freshman attendees with $1,000 scholarships via a raffle.
Geneva and David Garcia of Brazos Valley Home Health Services funded an additional $4,000 scholarship as a surprise.
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