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    SAVE THE DATE! ‘Merienda, a SLI celebration’ set for Sunday, September 17, 2023

    “Merienda, 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. More info and tickets coming summer 2023!

    Event sponsorships are invited here.

    Many thanks to the many sponsors for SLI’s October 2022 ¡10th Anniversary Tapas! event:

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    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.

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    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!)

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    ¡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 GoodCinnamon Bear Bakery & DeliEl Sol Mexican RestaurantLa Morena Mexican FoodLucien’s Catering, Magdalena BakerySaint 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.

    Read about SLI’s longer history and watch SLI Beginnings here.


    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.”


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    Richmond SLI student leaders creating a path to success for Latinx students

    Reposted from urnow.richmond.edu. Pictured: Sofia Ringvald (left) and Sofie Martinez.

    Senior leadership studies student Sofia Ringvald has always been passionate about volunteering, especially with other Latinx students.

    “Coming here from Florida as a Latinx female, I knew I wanted to get involved in a Latinx organization,” Ringvald said. She now serves as co-president of the Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI). She and co-president Sofie Martinez, also a leadership studies major, work with high school students in the Richmond area to help them apply to and prepare for college.

    “This work is important because our program creates meaningful relationships with our mentees,” Ringvald said. “For some of these high school students, SLI is their way to have a future and have a mentor who cares enough to make sure they get to where they want to be.”

    The University of Richmond chapter of SLI pairs Spider undergrads with high school students. They meet at events throughout the year. This month, they answered questions about preparing for college and the application process.

    “I had always wanted to contribute to the greater Richmond area, but never really knew where my time would be utilized the best,” Martinez said. “I see my time at SLI as the most impactful work I have done to serve a community, not because of the impact I have made on the program, but on the ways the members of the program have impacted me. I have met some of the most determined, hard-working, compassionate, funny, and inspirational people in this program.”

    Martinez, the first in her family to attend college, said the world of higher education can sometimes seem daunting.

    “You don’t know the right things to wear, to say, to believe, or to be taken seriously,” she said. “SLI’s main goal is to create a community for our mentees and their families who want to enter into this environment for the first time, and help them through that process.”

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    Partnership awards $1,000 “For Your Success” scholarship for second year

    PHOTO: Micael (bottom left) is the recipient of the 2022 “For Your Success” college scholarship award sponsored by Canastas Chicken Restaurants, Sacred Heart Center (SHC), Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI), and an anonymous donor. Pictured with Micael are SHC Executive Director Tanya Gonzalez (top left), SHC Director of Programs Carolina Lugo, SHC College and Career Bound Facilitator Selena Pacheco, and SLI Advisory Council Member Lyons Sanchezconcha.

    Micael, a graduating senior of the Sacred Heart Center (SHC) College & Career-Bound Program, has been awarded the $1,000 “For Your Success” scholarship sponsored by Canastas Chicken Restaurants, SHC, Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI), and an anonymous donor.

    “I couldn’t write or speak a single sentence when I got to the U.S in my freshman year, but I was determined to do my best at school as it was always something that mattered a lot to me,” Micael wrote in the scholarship application. “I started on level one of ESL at my school, took the exam, and was advanced to level three in my first year. I strongly believe my effort helped me improve my English proficiency.”

    Now studying in the honors program at the Richard Bland College of William and Mary, Micael has volunteered as an interpreter in hospitals, pharmacies, schools, and elsewhere, and in high school was a member of Rho Kappa, National Beta Club, and Spanish Honor Society.

    The SHC College & Career-Bound Program “was amazing,” Micael said during the scholarship award presentation ceremony. “It introduced me to the college world, and made me understand … that I can go to college.”

    The second-annual scholarship for College & Career-Bound Program graduates was sponsored by:

    • Canastas Chicken Restaurants has locations in Glen Allen, Richmond, and Henrico, and boasts “the best Pollo a la Brasa you will ever try.” 
    • Sacred Heart Center supports Latinos in Richmond through programs such as adult education, family literacy, citizenship classes, and more. 
    • Scholars Latino Initiative supports Latinx high school students with college access through rigorous academic challenge, leadership development, scholarships, and supportive mentorships in Harrisonburg, Richmond, and Winchester.
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    JMU touchdowns equal support for SLI scholars

    Thank you, Lantz Construction Company! Lantz pledged a donation to SLI for each James Madison University Football touchdown (7, for the win!) against Norfolk State on September 10. Pictured are Lantz director of construction management Kevin Gabel and SLI@JMU college student mentors Andrea Mariscal-Guzman and Kiara Christian, who delivered the game ball.

  • All Posts,  Events,  News,  SLI in Richmond

    Saturday SLI in Richmond: “Why College?”

    SLI in Richmond began the 2022-23 academic year with a Saturday SLI event for scholars and their families that included a “Why College” presentation by University of Richmond’s Edward Peebles, a mentor-mentee goal-setting activity, and lunch. The event was led by UR SLI co-presidents Sofie Martinez (in final photo, left) and Sofia Ringvald (right), pictured with SLI managing director Stephania Cervantes.

    (Photos by curlyheadphotographer)

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    SLI announces inaugural managing director

    As it celebrates its first decade as a Virginia nonprofit, Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) has announced the appointment of Stephania Cervantes as its inaugural managing director.

    Cervantes will promote and execute SLI’s mission to support Latino/a/x high school students with college access through rigorous academic challenge, leadership development, scholarships, and supportive mentorships. 

    Through collaborations with public school teachers and local university faculty, staff, and student mentors in Harrisonburg, Richmond, and Winchester, Virginia, SLI provides college access opportunities throughout high school, plus financial support for college success. 

    “I am delighted to welcome Stephania as SLI’s primary administrative leader,” said Jason Good, SLI board chair. “Her experiences in community engagement and commitment to creative collaboration across institutions will serve as a tremendous asset as SLI enters its next decade of serving remarkable young people.”

    SLI has experienced consistent growth in student membership and funding, including tripling donor financial contributions in the last five years, more than doubling investment reserves in the last two years, and increasing annual budgeted direct student financial support each year for the past five years. Since 2012 SLI has provided more than $431,000 in college scholarship awards, computer awards, and dual enrollment tuition assistance. Its alumni have attended 21 colleges and universities.

    Cervantes, a program recruiter and community liaison for the Shenandoah Valley Migrant Education Program at James Madison University’s Institute for Innovation in Health & Human Services and Harrisonburg resident, is a bilingual facilitator who has developed curricula and instructed at the Full Circle Montessori School in Arlington. She has participated in or led various initiatives relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion, food access, safe spaces, reparations, community mutual aid, Latinx solidarity, and access to resources. She attended Piedmont Virginia Community College and the Washington Montessori Institute at Loyola University.

    “I believe in addressing the gaps in educational opportunities available to the growing Latinx population of this region and pushing beyond the perceived expectations of what a Latinx learner can achieve,” she said. “This role presents an opportunity to reimagine an inclusive network of support, one that opens doors to help students actualize their potential and take charge of their education journeys.”

    The foundations of SLI’s mission began well before SLI’s first decade as a Virginia nonprofit. The original SLI was founded by Peter Iver Kaufman and others in 2003 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 2008 Kaufman brought SLI to the University of Richmond, Virginia, and later to the Shenandoah Valley, where this organization was incorporated in 2012 and became a 501c3 public charity. Kaufman continues to serve as the SLI program director in Richmond.

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    SLI announces endowment lead gift

    HARRISONBURG, Va. – Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) has announced that it will establish an endowment at the Community Foundation of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County with a lead gift of $100,000 from Gerald F. “J.J.” Smith, Jr. of Winchester, Virginia.

    Gerald F. Smith, Jr.

    The endowment will help sustain SLI’s mission of supporting Latino/a/x high school students with college access through rigorous academic challenge, leadership development, scholarships, and supportive mentorships. Additional SLI Endowment gifts that meet contribution minimums are welcome.

    “Each year for many years, SLI scholars have benefited from the Smith family’s generosity,” said Jason Good, SLI board chair. “Now, thanks to J.J.’s foresight in establishing this endowment to continue his support in perpetuity, many more will also be able to attend college.”

    Smith, until recently the president and CEO of Valley Proteins, was celebrated as a Community Star in 2020 by the Community Foundation of the Northern Shenandoah Valley. He serves on the board of directors of First Bank and was honored recently as a trustee emeritus of Shenandoah University, a SLI partner.

    A 501c3 nonprofit, SLI creates college access opportunities through collaborations with public school teachers and local university faculty, staff, and student mentors in Harrisonburg, Richmond, and Winchester, Virginia. SLI also offers financial assistance to its scholars, since 2012 providing more than $380,000 in college scholarship awards, computer awards, and dual enrollment tuition assistance. SLI alumni have attended 21 colleges and universities.

    This year SLI is celebrating its 10th year as a Virginia corporation, but the foundations of SLI’s mission began well before SLI’s first decade. The original SLI was founded by Peter Iver Kaufman and others in 2003 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 2008 Kaufman brought SLI to the University of Richmond, Virginia, and later to the Shenandoah Valley, where this organization was incorporated in 2012 and became a 501c3 public charity. 

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