NEWBURGH - When Starasia Fernandez got the news, the setting could not have been more fitting... with one exception that is.
In the midst of one of her passions, volunteering at a local daycare, the Poughkeepsie High School Senior, had just received an e-mail on her phone; she had been selected as one of the eight recipients for a Hudson Valley Latino Scholarship Award. Overjoyed by the news, Fernandez had to keep her emotions slightly in check.
"The kids at the daycare were napping at the time," said a smiling Fernandez, who is headed to SUNY Albany to pursue a major in psychology in the fall. "So, I couldn’t scream as loudly as I wanted to when I got the news, but I did scream a little bit; I was just so happy."
Fernandez’ jubilant reaction was similar to that of the seven other area Latino high school seniors who got word they had been selected for the prestigious honor, recognizing academic achievements and community service. Friday night, at Newburgh’s Ramada Inn, all eight of those recipients, accompanied by family members, were treated to a buffet dinner, awarded a monetary gift, as well as bestowed flowers and plaques of recognition. Marking its 14th year, the event has now recognized a total of 95 area Latino students. This year’s pool of 42 applicants, each with a 90 plus grade point average, was both extensive and impressive. It’s exactly the type of talent and potential that Eddie Ramirez and his wife Norma knew existed amongst the Hudson Valley Latino youth population when they initiated the scholarship idea in 1999.
"We are trying to change the stigma that Latinos are uneducated and dropouts," pointed out Ramirez, as he addressed the honorees. "You are serving as role models for other Latino students out there; I urge you to continue to mentor others, as any changes that will take place in the country are not going to come from the government but from you, the people, and Latinos are at the forefront of much of it."
Ramirez was alluding to leaders like Jonathan Iglesias, a Newburgh Free Academy recipient of the scholarship. Immersed in an assortment of clubs at NFA, Iglesias, who helped out with his schools’ Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, devotes countless hours volunteering at a local veteran’s hospital.
"This award means a great deal to me, especially coming from a Latino organization that is pointing out the accomplishments of our culture," said Iglesias, who will be attending Vaughn College in Queens to pursue a major in aviation. "It’s motivating for us to get these kinds of honors because it pushes us to achieve our dreams and keep going; it will also make us stronger as a community, making us realize even more how important it is to give back, especially to where we came from."
Not only do the eight award winners lend a hand to their communities, so too do the sponsors of the scholarships. Verizon Wireless, WellCare and Ulster Savings have all stood by the mission of the Ramirezes by consistently contributing precious funds, ensuring the bright future for the scholarship awards. Each organization had representatives on hand Friday night. Also present was the night’s guest speaker, Monica Arias Miranda, Founder, President & CEO of the Hispanic Coalition NY, Inc. Speaking about her own immigrant background and the priceless support she received while pursuing her dreams, Arias Miranda challenged her audience with some questions to ponder about our youth.
"What are we doing to help our youth?" Can we do more," queried Arias Miranda, who promptly supplied an answer. "Yes, we can always do more; it’s not just about money, but we can do mentoring or advocating." She continued, "It is our responsibility to give back to our youth by being role models and leaders to them while empowering our young dreamers to succeed; we can’t do it alone, but together we can make things happen."
It happened for NFA’s Richard Zhunio, who after being in this country for just four years, not only learned the language as a diligent, determined ESL student, but repeatedly made the honor roll, volunteers teaching ESL students at the Armory, is a member of countless school organizations, and devotes much of his free time to helping others achieve what many might have never deemed possible for him.
"I try to be a role model for other Latinos, playing soccer and talking with them," said Zhunio, headed to Orange County Community College in the fall to pursue a major in computer science. "I want to convince them that school is very important, and to take it seriously so that they are able to avoid being another statistic and have better futures."