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Winchester SLI Meet & Greet brings together students, board, community

The Winchester SLI Meet & Greet on April 19 celebrated college access by bringing together SLI scholars and alumni, family, board members, and community supporters for delicious food and drinks.

Sponsored by Laurel Ridge Community College, Valley Health, and First Bank and hosted by Lolita’s Mexican Restaurant and Bakery, the evening featured speeches by SLI alumni:

  • Elly (John Handley High School ’16, Shenandoah University ’24) is known as being “quiet but tenacious” and “peacefully determined,” and is featured at
  • Jaime (JHHS ’19, University of Virginia ’23) is a communications and trainings associate for the Virginia Conservation Network.
  • Raquel (JHHS ’21, LRCC ’23, Washington Adventist University ’25) is studying computer science and web design. 

SLI “helped me so much,” said Elly, who will graduate soon from the accelerated nursing program at Shenandoah University. “I honestly couldn’t have done it without SLI. They really supported my goals, and I am very grateful for that.”

During the event Winchester’s Gerald F. “J.J.” Smith, Jr. was recognized for funding many SLI college scholarships, and for his 2022 lead gift that led to the establishment of a SLI endowment at the Community Foundation of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.

SLI leaders were also introduced, including SLI board chair Fawn-Amber Montoya, Ph.D., associate dean of the James Madison University Honors College, and local board members:

  • Diana Patterson, owner of DSP Services
  • Bryan Pearce-Gonzales, Ph.D., department chair and professor of hispanic studies at Shenandoah University
  • Andrea Meador Smith, Ph.D., associate dean of College of Arts and Sciences at Shenandoah University, and
  • Veronique N. Walker, Ed.D., L.P.C., N.C.C., the equity and family empowerment coordinator for Winchester Public Schools.

With programs in Harrisonburg, Richmond, and Winchester, Virginia, the mission of Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) is to support Latino/a/x high school students with college access through rigorous academic challenge, leadership development, scholarships, and supportive mentorships. 

Through collaborations with university and high school staff, faculty, and students, SLI provides college access opportunities throughout high school. In addition, its scholars can become eligible for financial support for college success. Since 2012 SLI has served 180 scholars (67 current and 113 alumni) and awarded more than $542,000 in financial support for students. SLI scholars have attended 24 colleges and universities.