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Esperanza launches Campaign 25 and recognizes estudiantes

By Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa Cleveland Correspondent 


Esperanza’s 18th Annual Fiesta of Hope luncheon presented 45 scholarships to 39 brilliant Latino students from Cuyahoga and Lorain County on June 27, 2008.


More than 300 guests gathered at Windows on the River in the Flats to honor these students’ achievements and celebrate Esperanza’s 25 years of service to the Greater Cleveland Latino community.

Students line up to receive their awards

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson presented a proclamation to Board President Felicia Soto and said ‘the organization provides great educational opportunities in a city where the average high school graduation rate is 48percent.’ He congratulated the students and said they will emerge as important leaders for Cleveland. Jackson encouraged them to study hard, work diligently, and, most importantly, “Never forget where you come from.”


For Eddalind Morales, making sure her daughters Essairis and Sermaly remain devoted to serving the community is essential. Both her daughters received scholarships to continue their college education. Tears of pride streaked down her cheeks as she expressed gratitude for Esperanza, its supporters and volunteers who contribute to its continuous success.


“If it wasn’t for Esperanza, we wouldn’t be here,” said Essairis, a senior Nursing student at University of Akron and four-year- scholarship recipient. She is grateful for the investment Esperanza has made in her education and is looking forwarding to building her own legacy in the Latino community.


Her most precious legacy is younger sister Sermaly, who is steadily following her footsteps. “I liked how my sister was doing everything, and the recognition she received, she’s motivated and always follows through with her commitments and I want to do the same and more,” she said.


Sermaly will be attending Akron University in the fall to pursue a Respiratory Therapy degree. She plans to work for the Cleveland Clinic and make the most of her bilingual heritage.


Keynote speaker Lorraine Vega, Senior Vice President of Key Corp, reviewed all scholarship essays and said a common complaint among students was the lack of role models and mentors in the community. She pointed out that the CEO of McDonald, Kellogg, and Nike are all Latinos.


Eddairis, Sergio, Eddalind and Semaly Morales

For local role models, she pointed to the many accomplished leaders present in the hall, many of whom were past Esperanza students. “I want you to know it is possible to succeed as Latinos in the greater community,” she said.


Vega asked Esperanza’s founders, staff, students, and scholarship recipients to stand up and be recognized. One by one, they stood up to cheers of ‘Vivia la luz!’  Vega encouraged students to network, find mentors, and get to know their peers well. “Keep a wide circle of friends, especially those you think you do not like, explore, stay informed, and, most importantly, vote,” Vega said.

Esperanza was founded in 1983 and provides inner city and suburban students with tutoring, technology training, leadership development, mentoring, college and career counseling and scholarship assistance. The first scholarship awarded to a Lincoln West student was $200; this year, the organization awarded $40,000 in scholarships thanks to generous sponsors and grants.

Ken Wiley, daughters Cadia, Lina, wife Lorraine Vega, and son Ken Wiley, Jr.

Kim Wheeler, WKYC Channel 3 anchor, applauded Esperanza’s mission, saying she knows from personal experience that every scholarship provides peace of mind for students struggling to keep up increasing tuition fees. Wheeler works as an education reporter and said Esperanza’s students are some of the brightest and most motivated she has ever met. “I hear people complaining about the kids today, and I say they are not meeting the same kids I am,” Wheeler said.


Vega concurred and said Esperanza’s scholarship recipients have an average grade point average of 3.4, they are pursuing careers in engineering, health sciences, industrial design, law, and social work and 80 percent are Latinas.


Data colleted and analyzed by Esperanza estimates 70 percent of Cleveland Latinos drop out before completing their high school diploma—the highest of any ethnic group. Limited access to computers and technology, language, culture, poverty and isolation are key barriers to their education.  

The organization gives hope (esperanza) to students and encourages them to strive for a college education. A core mission is to reach out to the youth early and get them involved with after-school activities and develop their strengths.


Jean Ohlenbush, Esperanza Grant Consultant, said its easy to influence elementary students, but the real challenge is shaping high schools students and keeping them out of the streets and the streets out of them.

Essairis Morales, Scholarship Sponsor Juanita Nazario and Mayra Correa

The Latino population in Ohio is projected to grow and the need to bridge the education gap is becoming critical for the state’s economy. The Jobs Revolution 2005 report predicts over 85 percent of new jobs created by 2015 will require more than a high school diploma.


Esperanza is preparing to fill the void. “We are launching Campaign 25 which will sustain current programs, build new initiatives that will better Latino educational and economic opportunities in the region and increase the scholarship funds,” she said.


Soto said the organization has excelled in the past 25 years and asked sponsors and friends to actively shape its success by donating money and time. She encouraged the students to remain active and connected with Esperanza and set their dreams and goal high. “You don’t know what you can’t do until you try it,” she said. 


Vega reminded students that an Ivy League education does not necessarily equate success. “Your ambition, people skills, attitude, and hard work will make successful careers, its not always where you are, who  you are with, what matters is what you do with what you have,” she said.


For more information on Esperanza, Inc., call (216) 651-7178 or visit www.esperanzainc.org


Esperanza’s Board President Felicia Soto

Barbara Esperon,  Jose Vasquez, and Amy Ramos

 Esperanza’s Top Ranking students: Mayra A. Correa (Social Work), Keisha M. Gonzáles (Industrial Design), Cynthia Y. Burgos (Psychology), Raymond R. Nelson (Law), and Alicia M. González (Nursing).






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