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    SLI class of ’23 college acceptances

    To date, SLI scholars graduating from high school this year have been accepted to the following colleges and universities:

    • Bridgewater College
    • Eastern Mennonite University
    • George Mason University
    • Hampton University
    • Harvard University
    • Hollins University
    • James Madison University
    • Longwood College
    • Mary Baldwin University
    • Old Dominion University
    • Radford University
    • Roanoke College
    • Shenandoah University
    • University of Virginia
    • Virginia Commonwealth University
    • Virginia Tech

    DONATE HERE to support SLI college scholarship and computer awards!

  • All Posts,  Meet SLI Scholars,  SLI in Winchester

    Big-picture dreams and good vibes: Meet Helen, SLI scholar

    WINCHESTER, VA – An interview with SLI scholar Helen (John Handley High School ’25), pictured with fellow SLI scholar Tatiana (left) and SLI program director and Latinos Unidos club advisor Ileana Escalante.

    What are some things you enjoy about school?

    My favorite subject is history, learning why everything is the way it is now, and how history repeats itself. We see what happened back then happening now. I also like chemistry. Even though I can sometimes struggle a little bit, it’s interesting. I’m in three clubs – Interact, Latinos Unidos, and SLI – and I think they’re very fun, mostly when we’re working with organizations and doing community service.

    What are your big-picture dreams for after high school?

    I definitely want to go to college. I don’t know where, but hopefully somewhere a little close to home, where I can find out who I am, and independence. 

    There are a lot of things that interest me, like the medical field. I don’t know if I want to be a pediatrician, or if I want to be a dentist. I also recently went on a field trip to read with little kids in elementary school, and I’ve always had this inside feeling of wanting to be a primary school teacher. It was like, “Maybe this is what I’m meant to do.”

    My mom was the first in the whole family to go to college, in El Salvador. She and her family worked so hard for her to be able to go to college. My grandma had 11 kids, and so it was a huge household to run, and they weren’t very wealthy, so they kind of had to make their way. She talks about how if you wanted to go outside and play, even if you wanted to go out with your friends to do homework, you first had to make tortillas, you had to cook, and clean.

    My mom got very lucky with scholarships and got the opportunity to go college, and she became a teacher.  In moving to the U.S. she sacrificed her diploma and her education and now she’s working like someone who never went to college, and that’s very touching to me. The fact that she gave up her hard work and education so that my brother and I could have the advantages and opportunities that she never had, has played a big role in who I am and who I want to become.

    I strive to be like her in a way. It’s a lot of pressure, because since she’s a teacher, she and my dad are very involved with my school and are strict about my grades. 

    What do you appreciate about SLI?

    Being involved with SLI, Latinos Unidos, and other clubs, and being around different kinds  of people, is very comforting. You’re never going to be scared to speak your mind or reach out because you know that they’ll understand you, and you know that they have gone through the same, or similar things, and so it’s very comforting. And you just feel welcomed and included.

    It’s always good vibes, good energy. We’re always celebrating something. There’s hope out there. That’s the most important thing.

  • All Posts,  Meet SLI Scholars,  SLI in Winchester

    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.

  • All Posts,  News,  SLI in Harrisonburg,  SLI in Winchester

    SLI Congreso ’23

    SLI scholars from Winchester and Harrisonburg gathered with [email protected] mentors to learn about leveraging their strengths to better themselves and their communities.

    Students participated in cross-program discussions, met with SLI Board Chair and JMU Associate Dean for Diversity, Inclusion and External Engagement Fawn-Amber Montoya (pictured, third from left) and visiting professors of Latinx studies (from left, Daniel Morales of VCU, Sarah Deutsch of Duke, and Benny Andres of UNC-Charlotte), ate in the JMU dining hall, and shared about difficult choices as they progress toward college.

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    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.

  • All Posts,  News

    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.”

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    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!”

  • All Posts,  News,  SLI in Harrisonburg,  SLI in Winchester

    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.

  • All Posts,  Expressions of Gratitude,  SLI in Harrisonburg,  SLI in Winchester

    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

  • All Posts,  Events,  News

    Merienda ’23 set for Sunday, September 17, 2023

    More info and tickets are coming this summer about Merienda ’23! Featuring diverse, locally sourced foods, wine, local beers, and live music by Lua Project with dancing, the celebration will take place 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:

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