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Meet Yeyhlin, SLI scholar
WINCHESTER, VA – An interview with SLI scholar Yeyhlin (John Handley High School ’23), who plans to become a pediatrician – a role she says feels “second nature.”
What are your college and career goals?
I really like to work with children, so I want to be a pediatric doctor. I’ve always liked helping people. As I’m the oldest daughter in my family, it’s kind of second nature. Since I was eight I’d play with doctor toys, put on a little lab coat and everything, and then when I started looking at careers I wanted to focus on something that pays well and is something that I am passionate about.
I’ll be the first in my family to go to college, and I’m going to Hollins University, an all-girls school. I was accepted into UVA and Virginia Tech, but I wanted a smaller school so I could really focus on learning the material. Since I’m going to be premed, I want to make sure I get connections with my professors, learn the material for the MCAT, and do it right the first time.
What are some of your classes and involvements?
I like to read and write a lot, so I like English class. I like AP Government this year, too. It’s pretty interesting. I’ve been into public speaking for a while. It’s my second year with the speech and debate team, and I got first in regionals. The team is really proud of all we’ve accomplished.
I did work at a home for older people, and now I am a server at a restaurant. It’s good money, with flexible hours.
What are some challenges?
A lot of the times, when I take the challenge to take an AP class, I’m one of the few Hispanic girls in there, if not the only one, so at times you kind of feel alone. I mean, I have a lot of friends in that class, but sometimes I feel like I have to prove myself more.
It can be really hard to do well in my classes when I have family responsibilities, too. My father passed away in June three years ago, and I have a sister and a little brother. With my mom and the language barrier I’ve kind of been her mini translator, so I don’t know how they’re going to do without me when I go to college. I have a little guilt going away. We’ve kind of gotten a lot closer since my dad died, so me going away will be really tough on my mom.
My mom has always wanted me to have an education. Now I have all these scholarships, so we don’t have to worry so much about the money.
SLI Service Award conferred on long-serving board members
In recognition of their long service and achievements, the college-access nonprofit Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) has conferred SLI Service Awards on Laura Feichtinger McGrath and Larry Miller, whose terms on the SLI board of directors concluded at the end of 2022.
Incorporated in 2012 and a 501c3 nonprofit since 2013, SLI creates college access opportunities through collaborations with public school teachers and local university faculty, staff, and student mentors. SLI also offers financial assistance to its scholars, and has awarded more than $476,000 in college scholarships, computer awards, and dual enrollment tuition assistance. Its alumni have attended 21 colleges and universities.
“I am thankful for the contributions of Laura and Larry,” said Fawn-Amber Montoya, Ph.D., SLI board chair and associate dean for diversity, inclusion and external engagement at James Madison University. “SLI is the organization that it is today in large part because of their time and support. Their work has set an example for me of how to serve SLI students best.”
Feichtinger McGrath, Director of EL Services and Title III for Harrisonburg City Public Schools, is the longest continuously serving board member to date, and was a founding board member. She also served terms as secretary.
“From SLI’s inception, Laura has ensured that our mission is student-centered. Her experience as an educator has been invaluable to create structures that best serve both our scholars and the children of Harrisonburg City,” said Hannah Bowman Hrasky, SLI program director and teacher at Harrisonburg High School.
“Laura is well respected and trusted in the community and in the Harrisonburg City school district as a champion for the needs of our students and families with immigrant and refugee status. SLI has benefitted from her expertise as an educator, her knowledge of barriers and access, her generosity of time and service, and her wisdom for how to get things done,” said Carlos Alemán, Ph.D., SLI board member and program director and associate professor of communication studies at James Madison University.
“Laura works quietly and relentlessly for our city school students,” said Sylvia Whitney Beitzel, managing editor of the International Journal on Responsibility and recent SLI board member. “She is fierce about their rights to access the education they need. I have seen her hold families, care for students with great affection and respect, and translate what they’ve needed and what they’ve had to give into something tangible. She helps people make connections, she finds the resources, and she builds people up, beyond her job description. It is no wonder she is a founding board member and has been a committed one for this long!”
Miller, a retired banking executive, served as SLI’s director of development 2016-18, then joined the board of directors in 2020 for a three-year term.
“We knew that we needed to create a director of development role if we wanted to take the next steps of growth, but were also a bit uncertain what that role would look like or how it would transform the organization. By the end of our first meeting, I was absolutely convinced that Larry was the absolute right person to guide us on the next phase of our journey,” Alemán said.
“Larry’s kind and thoughtful guidance structured our future as an organization. His deep personal belief in the mission resonated with our community and helped establish SLI in the Shenandoah Valley,” Bowman Hrasky said.
“I have learned so much from working with Larry at SLI,” said Jason Good, Ph.D., immediate past chair and vice president for enrollment management at Ringling College of Art and Design. “He brings confident and strategic leadership, but does so with humility and in a way that creates space for various viewpoints. He has filled various roles at SLI, always willing to step up as needed with a deep commitment to the community and the scholars.”
Previous SLI Service Awards were conferred upon founding board members Paul Burkholder in 2018 and Phil Helmuth in 2021.
“Larry’s and Laura’s work leave lasting impacts on the SLI community. They have always been generous with their time and have provided great direction for us to lead the culture forward,” said Stephania Cervantes, SLI managing director.
Sentara Healthcare grant to increase healthcare career opportunities for SLI scholars
Sentara Healthcare has awarded $60,000 to the college-access nonprofit Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) to increase underserved representation in healthcare.
The grant will support opportunities to develop SLI scholars’ leadership skills and access to skilled health careers, training for SLI mentors, and the strengthening of SLI’s long-term capacity to serve students. In addition, the grant establishes the Sentara SLI Scholar College Award designed to empower SLI scholars to achieve health careers and recognize their leadership in related service and activities.
A response to medical staff shortages plaguing the U.S. healthcare system, the grant is part of Sentara efforts to create a pipeline for young students to their desired healthcare careers while also positively impacting their community’s economics and health equity outcomes.
“By reducing the financial burden on students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, offering stronger mentorship and training opportunities, and removing barriers to higher-paying and more meaningful careers, we are investing in the future of healthcare and empowering the next generation of professionals,” said Becky Sawyer, Sentara executive vice president and chief people officer.
“I’m excited for SLI students to receive support from Sentara,” said SLI board chair Fawn-Amber Montoya. “SLI Scholars will be better prepared to enter higher education because of these types of resources.”
A 501c3 nonprofit, SLI creates college access opportunities through collaborations with public school teachers and local university faculty, staff, and student mentors. SLI also offers financial assistance to its scholars, since 2012 providing more than $476,000 in college scholarship awards, computer awards, and dual enrollment tuition assistance. SLI alumni have attended 21 colleges and universities.
“SLI scholars are highly capable young people who serve the greater good in meaningful ways,” said Stephania Cervantes, SLI managing director. “Increased access to health careers will result in greater financial security and improved social determinants of health for them, their families, and our communities as a whole.”
SLI board of directors welcomes new chair, members
Pictured clockwise from top left: Diana Patterson, Fawn-Amber Montoya, Hector Cendejas, Steve Burkholder, and Lisette Carbajal.
The college-access nonprofit Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) has begun its second decade of service in Virginia by welcoming its newest chair and four new members to its board of directors.
“At its core, SLI is a community-based organization led by volunteer board members committed to our mission to support higher education opportunities for Latinx young people,” said Jason Good, Ph.D., who served as chair from 2019-2022 and is the vice president for enrollment management at Ringling College of Art and Design. “The board has provided vital leadership in SLI’s founding and development over the past decade, bringing us to this moment, and its current and growing strength promises an even brighter future.”
Incorporated in 2012 and a 501c3 nonprofit, SLI creates college access opportunities through collaborations with public school teachers and local university faculty, staff, and student mentors. SLI also offers financial assistance to its scholars, and has awarded more than $468,000 in college scholarships, computer awards, and dual enrollment tuition assistance. Its alumni have attended 21 colleges and universities.
The newly appointed chair and four new board members have backgrounds in higher education, finance, government affairs and policy, social work, advocacy, and business.
Fawn-Amber Montoya, Ph.D. of Harrisonburg has assumed the role of chair. A board member since 2021, she is associate dean for diversity, inclusion and external engagement at James Madison University. Before assuming her role at JMU in 2019, Montoya directed the Honors program at Colorado State University Pueblo, where she received awards for service, advising, and mentoring, was a professor of history who taught courses in race, ethnicity, and gender, and focused on Mexican-American history. She has consulted on numerous museum exhibits, co-authored Practicing Oral History to Connect University to Community, and edited Making An American Workforce: The Colorado Fuel and Iron Company’s Construction of a Workforce during the Rockefeller Years.
“Me ha impresionado el trabajo que se ha logrado en los últimos 10 años y me emociona tener esta oportunidad de servir a mi gente en Virginia,” Montoya said. “I am thrilled to be serving as the board chair for SLI, and excited to work with board members and SLI staff to support high school students. I know how important it is for the Latino/a/x population to have an organization like SLI that can assist high school students with getting to and being successful in higher education.”
Steve Burkholder of Broadway is a financial planner at Everence Financial and joined to be treasurer of the SLI board. He and his wife Olivia have two boys, Carson and Micah, and are active members of Eastside Church where they serve as small group leaders. A graduate of Eastern Mennonite University, he has taught middle and high school math and coached baseball and golf in Shenandoah County Public Schools.
“I am excited to join this board that cares deeply about the SLI students and hope to provide my areas of expertise to help further its mission,” Burkholder said.
Lisette Carbajal of Richmond is a member of Capital One’s State and Local Government Affairs Group. She also serves as chief of staff for HOLA, Capital One’s Hispanic business/associate resource group. She previously was director of government affairs of the Virginia Health Care Association and a policy advisor and community integration coordinator at Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. She was appointed as a policy advisor and Latino liaison by Governor Terry McAuliffe to his administration in 2014.
Carbajal has served on the Virginia Board of Health Professions and the Virginia Advisory Board in Service and Volunteerism, and currently serves on the Board of Visitors to Mount Vernon, Alzheimer’s Association: Greater Richmond Chapter Board of Directors, and Virginia Health Catalyst Board of Directors. She is also engaged with other Alzheimer’s-related organizations including the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers and Hilarity for Charity.
Carbajal’s parents immigrated from Lima, Peru. Despite being born in the United States, English is her second language. She received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia in foreign affairs with a concentration in Latin America, and a master’s degree in Public Administration from Virginia Tech. She is married to Graham Elder and has a goldendoodle Lilo.
“My experience navigating through the higher education system was an unknown path, as no one in my family had ever gone to college before me,” she said. “Being able to guide students in achieving their goal to obtain a higher education is a passion of mine since I know the opportunities it can bring. SLI’s work not only allows students to explore opportunities outside of their surroundings; it also allows them to achieve the social and economic success many immigrant parents wish for their children.”
Hector Cendejas of Arlington is the family reunification program director at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, an adjunct faculty at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and George Mason University, and an online adjunct field liaison at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work. He has been a social work field instructor for students from VCU, GMU, Capella University, and Columbia University.
He has served on the Manassas Park city council, the human services policy committee and board of directors of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, and the human development and education policy and legislative committees of the Virginia Municipal League. He was an alternate commissioner for the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission and the Virginia Railway Expressway, and an advisory board member for Mason and Partners Clinic.
Cendejas received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Georgetown University, a master of social work in community organization, planning, and administration from University of Southern California, and a master of education in human development and psychology, child advocacy strand, from Harvard University.
“I believe in serving our community of future leaders!” he said.
Diana Patterson of Winchester is owner and CEO of DSP Marketing & Consulting and a Hispanic/Latino business consultant for Laurel Ridge Small Business Development Center. A native of El Salvador and naturalized in the United States in 2018, she also serves on the United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley board of directors, the Shenandoah University School of Business board of advisors, and the governor’s Virginia Latino Advisory Board, for which she chairs the business and workforce committee. She was an inaugural member of the SLI advisory council.
“I grew up worrying that my family or I could be deported any day, translating for my parents, and accepting the fact that I would become just another blue collar worker like my mother and father. I am now passionate about mentoring youth who may still be in that situation, to help them appreciate their bilingualism, have gratitude for the pressure to mature at an early age, and develop a desire to become the next generation of community servants and leaders,” she said.
“I am delighted to have such expansive representation on the board of directors,” said Stephania Cervantes, SLI managing director. “Along with their expertise, the new members provide perspectives that deepen SLI’s commitment to inclusive excellence through leadership. Our cohort of scholars will benefit significantly from seeing and learning from a group of people that represent their cultural identity and academic aspirations. ¡Será una experiencia muy enriquecedora trabajar junto a ellos!”
F&M Bank SLI Scholar College Award to support financial sector career opportunities
HARRISONBURG, VA – The college-access nonprofit Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) has partnered with F&M Bank to establish the F&M Bank SLI Scholar College Award for Latinx students pursuing business and entrepreneur-related studies and careers.
Designed to empower SLI scholars to achieve financial sector careers and recognize their leadership in related service and activities, the $5,000 scholarships will be awarded to SLI scholars studying relevant fields in college. The partnership will also include opportunities for personal finance management programming, internships, and job shadowing.
“Our company’s values are based on supporting our neighbors to build better communities where we all live, work, and play,” said Holly Thorne, F&M Bank senior vice president. “Scholarship programs are critical in the face of today’s changing higher-ed landscape, which is why F&M Bank supports SLI scholars who are undertaking academic programs that will empower them as they develop into our future community and civic leaders.”
A 501c3 nonprofit, SLI creates college access opportunities through collaborations with public school teachers and local university faculty, staff, and student mentors. SLI also offers financial assistance to its scholars, since 2012 providing more than $466,000 in college scholarship awards, computer awards, and dual enrollment tuition assistance. SLI alumni have attended 21 colleges and universities.
“Our partnership with F&M Bank will benefit SLI scholars even beyond the named college award,” said Stephania Cervantes, SLI managing director. “Personal finance management programming will also help them develop the tools to manage their economic trajectory and open doors to potential career paths and professional development opportunities.”
F&M Bank is headquartered in the Shenandoah Valley, with a network spanning the I-81/64 corridors from Winchester to Waynesboro and beyond. The only publicly traded organization based in Rockingham County, the Company’s core values of enthusiasm, flexibility, responsiveness, community, and fun drive its corporate philanthropy, volunteerism, and local decision-making. The bank supports clients with a robust digital banking suite, full-service branches, and essential services like mortgage loans, title services, wealth management, business banking, and agricultural lending. With philanthropic efforts totaling over $300,000 annually, and a team dedicated to volunteering, our responsibility is to provide a bright future right here.
Help SLI scholars maximize their potential!
DONATE TODAY: vasli.org/donate
“Whether it’s community college, a four-year university, or even just AP classes and dual enrollment while in high school, education has the power to change the world. By giving to SLI you can ensure that Latinx students have access to these opportunities and they can maximize their potential.” –Stephania Cervantes, SLI managing director
Merienda ’23 set for Sunday, September 17, 2023
More info and tickets are coming this summer about Merienda ’23, a SLI celebration will feature diverse, locally sourced meriendas, beverages, and live music with dancing from 4-8 p.m. on Sunday, September 17, 2023, at On Sunny Slope Farm, Harrisonburg.
Event sponsorships are invited here.
Many thanks to the many sponsors for SLI’s October 2022 ¡10th Anniversary Tapas! event:
SLI alumna Dulce Alonso speaks at JMU
SLI alumna Dulce Alonso (Harrisonburg High School ’15, George Mason University ’17) spoke to a crowded audience on the subject of civic engagement and citizenship at a university event hosted by JMU’s Center for Civic Engagement and JMU Latin American, Latinx, and Caribbean Studies. Dulce (bottom row, second from right) was made to feel at home by JMU students who are peer mentors for SLI’s high school scholars.
Watch SLI Beginnings to hear Dulce talk about her SLI experiences.
SLI meets Dolores Huerta at Somos JMU Latinx Conference
A SLI highlight from the inaugural Somos JMU Latinx Conference was meeting keynote speaker Dolores Huerta, celebrated Latina labor leader, activist, and community organizer and founder and president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation. (Thank you, Karina Kline-Gabel, Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the JMU College of Arts and Letters, for the photo and for leading the conference!)
¡10th Anniversary Tapas! celebrates SLI’s first decade
In celebration of Scholars Latino Initiative’s first decade as a Virginia nonprofit and with the support of many invaluable partners and sponsors listed below, ¡10th Anniversary Tapas! brought together the SLI community for a night of inspiring speeches, incredible food, and much more.
Presenters included Dulce Alonso, who as one of SLI’s first alumni is featured in the SLI Beginnings video, and SLI program directors Carlos Alemán (also featured in the video) and Hannah Bowman Hrasky.
Guests also enjoyed mingling over foods and beverages by A Bowl of Good, Cinnamon Bear Bakery & Deli, El Sol Mexican Restaurant, La Morena Mexican Food, Lucien’s Catering, Magdalena Bakery, Saint Isidore Homestead & Permaculture, and Santa Isabel Coffee. Additional highlights included an open bar with wine and Three Notch’d Valley Collab House beers, live music by Lua Project, and salsa and bachata dancing led by Phillip and Natasha Fusaro of Dance Together, all at On Sunny Slope Farm near Harrisonburg.
Words of celebration by Hannah Bowman Hrasky, SLI board member and program director at Harrisonburg High School:
“Nine years ago, Laura Feichtinger-Mcgrath, Sandy Mercer, Carlos, and I met to talk about my joining the team. They gushed about the three scholars in the program, the mission of the organization, and the commitment of all the adults and students involved. I got to tag along with Dulce, Willy, Raul, Sandy, and Carlos to a campus visit at EMU and saw the incredibly tight bond they had formed. I knew I wanted to be part of that little family.
Over the last nine years, SLI has changed my life. I have learned and continue to learn so much about the many obstacles facing Latinx students as they navigate predominantly white spaces, about the ever changing policies surrounding documentation, about how laws and systems of power directly impact marginalized students.
Most of all, I’ve learned about perseverance. I’ve seen our students struggle with challenging course loads, expectations of them that are either far too low or far too high, immigration law, institutionalized obstacles, and severe uncertainty about their own or their family’s ability to even live in their homes. In the face of all of this, our scholars are unwavering. They have set the example for future students, for me, and for this organization of how to relentlessly pursue a goal. SLI’s work and our success over the last decade is entirely because of this example of perseverance from our students.
Now, when I look out at the twenty-eight current SLI scholars at HHS sitting in my classroom, I am overwhelmed with gratitude and pride. I am so grateful for them, I’m so grateful for this organization, and I’m so grateful to all of you who have demonstrated your support over the last ten years.
Here’s to the next decade. Thank you all so much.”