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18th Annual Latino Heritage Night awards scholarships

By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa Correspondence

On a warm sunny summer evening, 20-year old Oscar Cordova got the boost he needs to keep pursuing his lifelong goal in the fall: a scholarship from the Spanish American Organization (SAO) to continue his studies at Owens Community College.


Mary Morales with Oscar Cordova

“I like math,” he said, crediting a Waite High School teacher for sparking that love.

Cordova had his name called near home plate just before the Toledo Mud Hens squared off against the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, hoping to hang onto first place in their International League division, embroiled in a heated pennant race with their rival, the Columbus Clippers.

Cordova proudly waved a giant cardboard check like he had just won the minor-league baseball pennant. For an evening at least, the cheers were for his accomplishments in the classroom and pursuit of a higher education—just like a single and pursuit of a stolen base would have drawn loud support from the Fifth Third Field crowd for their favorite Mud Hens baseball player.

Cordova received an $862 SAO scholarship to Owens, where he’ll finish his associate’s degree next year, then plans to transfer to the University of Toledo to finish an education degree. He   wants to teach either middle-school or high school math, after struggling in the subject his freshman year. But then Mr. Jarvis entered his life.

“I wasn’t too good at math that year. I had him for two classes and one thing he always made sure was no one left the classroom without understanding the subject,” Cordova explained. “He basically worked one-on-one with us through the first period and then the second, he made sure everyone had it put down and everyone was going home with the subject imprinted in their mind and he just did a wonderful job of what he was doing. Made me love math. That’s the year I decided I was going to teach seventh through freshman math.”

Cordova now hopes to inspire his future math students the same way Mr. Jarvis inspired him to do his best in math.

“Makes you want to do the same for other students as well,” he said. “I want to help them out to the point where they feel confident in the subject to where they’ll want to teach it.”

22-year old Carla Marianna Castaneda Yupanqui moved to Toledo with her family after graduating from a high school in Charlotte, NC. Her dad got a job with the Toledo Catholic Diocese as director of the office of multicultural ministries. Originally from Lima, Perú, she became used to moving for her father’s career.

But she found a home in Lourdes University and a love of Toledo, so she decided to set down roots to finish her education when the family picked and moved again to Virginia. The nursing major picked up a $1,000 scholarship during the pregame ceremony.

“This just allows me to continue my career, to continue pursuing my dreams of becoming a nurse,” she said. “A couple years ago when I was applying to college, it was possible because of economic funds and this all just makes it happen again. Every year that I get support just means a lot to me.”

Like Cordova, Ms. Yupanqui has chosen a career path where she can pay it forward in life.

“I have found that giving back to my community is what really fulfills me, so I hope to work with minority communities, using my bilingual skills and things like that to really serve people that are underserved,” she said.

Stephanie Martínez, 35, received a $1,000 scholarship to continue her studies in business. She hopes to one day open her own business or work in risk management. Ms. Martinez works at the Lucas County auto title office in Sylvania, where she and her kids also live while she attends Lourdes University.

“It helps me a lot. I have three kids. I’m just paying for school myself, along with student loans,” she said.

Her higher education is showing “a lot” to her kids, as they work to graduate from high school. Her children are 13, 12, and 10—and about to enter the toughest phase of their education. The family frequently finds itself studying around the same table each evening.

“To go for your dreams and goals. I’ve been a student for a while, so I want them to see me finish,” said Ms, Martinez, who is only two semesters away from graduation. “If you’re going to start something, always finish it.”

Nalleli Balderas, 18, is a Waite High School graduate who will be a freshman at the University of Toledo in the fall and major in biomedical sciences, with the intent of become a surgeon one day and work in California or Florida. She received a $500 scholarship from Latins United.

“It’s not very typical to see a lot of diversity, especially in the medical field. Being a woman, a Latina, it’s very important for me to show that I’m not just a stereotype,” said Ms. Balderas. “I want to be able to be the whole package.”

Hers is a success story that involves perseverance and facing adversity head-on, by deciding to make a life change and stick with it.

“I didn’t start off very successful in high school, so I ended up transferring away and didn’t start at Waite,” she admitted. “But I promised myself that even though I didn’t have a good start that I was going to have a good ending. When I was younger, I knew that even if I wasn’t the smartest, if I worked hard I could be bigger. It was very important to my parents—who didn’t have many opportunities—and important to me to make them proud.”

Ms. Balderas lists her father as her inspiration to do better going forward in life, because of the many sacrifices he has made for his four daughters, the oldest of whom also attends college. Her father accompanied her to the pre-game scholarship ceremony.

“It means a lot. I don’t want to cry,” she said of her father’s presence and continued support between tears. “It’s going to help a lot. It motivates me and shows me that if I don’t work hard, then I can’t take care of him.”

“I’m so proud. That’s why I work so hard, give these guys opportunity. I never had those opportunities. That’s why I want to make sure they get the opportunity I never had, open a lot of doors I never got to open,” said her father Eli Balderas, who has worked his way up to a supervisor role at his current employer. “My parents came up from Mexico, never really had no mother, no dad.”

Nalleli’s dad stood proud near home plate, taking a video on his phone of his daughter receiving a giant mock check as she tried desperately to hold back tears of joy.

“I’ve always wanted them to go to college. That’s good, because most of the kids graduate and that’s it, you know, they want to stop there,” he said. “Not my daughters. They wanted to go to college and I kept pushing them, giving them support. They did good. They surprised me, did real good. They got scholarships, helping them out a lot. I’m real proud of them. I’m just here to help her however I can.”

19-year old Gabrielle O'Donnell of Holland is one of six students to receive a $500 scholarship from Latins United this year.

“A lot less stress and I can go back to school not having to worry about money for books,” she said with a laugh.

The Springfield High School graduate is a sophomore at the University of Toledo, where she is treasurer of the Latino Student Union (LSU), and majoring in human resource management and organizational leadership. Ms. O'Donnell plans to be a talent recruiter.

The baby of the family “by a long shot,” she has an older sister, 35, who works for ProMedica as a nurse and a brother, 26, who works for a construction company. Her anticipation made her a bit jumpy before the check presentation.

“It feels cool. I’m a little nervous—I’m going to be on the big screen,” she said with a laugh.

Ms. O'Donnell shared her special moment with her high school sweetheart whom she met “while laser tagging,” 20-year old Michael Serratos.

“I’m really proud of her. She’s a born leader and she’s going to make a lot of herself in the future,” he said.

The other SAO scholarship winner is Samantha Torres, a sophomore at Owens Community College majoring in criminal justice.

The remaining Latins United scholarship recipients include recent Toledo School for the Arts graduate José Martínez, who’s entering Butler University as a music composition major, Waite

High School graduate LaMarcus Neal, who heads to the University of Toledo next month to study education; Bowsher High School graduate Serena Rodríguez, who will begin classes at Mercy College of Ohio in pursuit of a medical technology degree, and Woodmore High School graduate Isabella Sánchez, who plans to study animal science and pre-veterinary medicine this fall at the University of Findlay.

More than 500 people bought tickets to help support the annual scholarship fundraiser, which is also meant to spread Latino culture to a wider audience to raise awareness in the community.

SAO leaders selected 85-year old María DeJesús Montez to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. The mother of 14 formerly played in a professional women’s baseball league. Her daughter María wrote to Heritage Night organizers to tell them about her Texas-born mother, brought to Toledo as a youth more than six decades ago. Now stricken with dementia and living at Genacross Lutheran Home in East Toledo, her daughter and other relatives helped her to the pitcher’s mound for the special moment.

Yvonne y Grupo Fuego played a pre-game concert on the Hensville Park stage to entertain a growing crowd, while on the other side of Fifth Third Field, mariachi singer Jacob Estrada serenaded ticket buyers and baseball fans and El Corazón de México Ballet Folklorico dancers performed outside the main gate.

Mariachi Jacob Estrada performed inside the Home Plate Entrance.

Yvonne Ramos-Ybarra later sang the national anthem at home plate during pre-game ceremonies.

The Latino crowd proved lucky, as the Mud Hens won, 4 to 3.

The Detroit Tigers will host its 13th annual ¡Fiesta Tigres! to honor the many contributions of Latin baseball players on Saturday, August 11, 6 p.m. There will be special pregame concourse festivities beginning at 4:30 p.m. A Latins United-sponsored bus headed to that game against the Minnesota Twins is already a sell-out, so tickets can be purchased online at tigers.com or by calling 866-66-TIGER.


Copyright © 1989 to 2018 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 07/31/18 21:34:38 -0700.




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