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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.
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 2001 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.
Pictured: Harrisonburg High School’s 2022 SLI cohort
HARRISONBURG, Va., June 15, 2022 – Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) scholars graduating from high school have named their university choices.
Among the colleges and universities selected by the cohort of 18 students – six in Harrisonburg, eight in Richmond, and four in Winchester – are:
- Bridgewater College
- Eastern Mennonite University
- J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College
- James Madison University
- John Tyler Community College
- Laurel Ridge Community College
- Old Dominion University
- University of Virginia
- Virginia Union University
Their anticipated fields of study include computer science, history, nursing, social work, pre-dentistry, and pre-veterinary sciences.
“SLI produces new opportunities for Latinx students facing struggles during the college process,” said Janefer, a SLI scholar graduating from Harrisonburg High School. “SLI opens new doors by not only helping us pay our dual enrollment tuition to obtain college credits while in high school, but also by challenging us to serve the community without receiving anything back.”
At a SLI graduation celebration in Richmond, scholars and their families were addressed by Rubi, a SLI alumna who now works for Gartner, Inc.
“SLI gave me and my parents hope, and reinforced my belief that if I was dedicated and determined to fight my way through, I could actually go to college,” she said. “I knew that graduating from college would help level the playing field for me as a Latina in the professional world, and I’m proud to say that thanks to my education and the invaluable support I’ve received throughout the years from the SLI family, I now have an amazing job in Washington, DC at the world’s leading IT research and business advisory firm.”
Pictured: SLI scholar Yoselin (Huguenot High School ’24) and her family at her quinceañera in 2021.
SLI: What are some of your interests?
Yoselin: I love to draw and write. I am interested in learning about sewing, and I love the thought of designing clothing. Some of my favorite classes are both English and science, which are the main classes I’ve had.
What would you like to share about your family or life history?
My parents came from Guatemala to California and later to Virginia. They had me here, in Richmond.
What are your college/career goals?
I want to go to college to experience and learn. I want to learn more about the science of the human body and join the medical field as a registered nurse, or work in the ER.
Why did you decide to become part of SLI?
SLI has helped me realize I might need extra help, considering I would be the first in my family to go to college. I do not have an older sibling who has graduated from college and could guide me. I was also interested in the many opportunities that SLI offers, and I met such wonderful people. I even made an awesome friend from SLI and we talk almost every day! I love being part of SLI. It is an incredible experience. I’ve heard from those who have gone into SLI and shared their experiences, and I agree with them: SLI is a life changer, and with the help of everyone I’ve learned so many things since I’ve joined! I do not regret joining.
HARRISONBURG, Va., May 19, 2022 – Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) has announced the appointments of Cecilia E. Barbosa (pictured, left) and Veronique N. Walker to its board of directors, bringing its membership to 13.
“We are pleased to welcome Cecilia and Veronique to the SLI board,” said Jason Good, SLI board chair. “Their professional experience and expertise will strengthen SLI as we pursue our mission to support students with college access opportunities.”
Cecilia E. Barbosa, Ph.D., M.P.H., M.C.P., is founder and principal of cBe consulting, which provides consultation in public health and nonprofit leadership to community groups, and private and public organizations. She has worked for over 20 years in public health in Virginia, including several years as an independent consultant; as director of the Virginia Department of Health Division of Child and Adolescent Health; and as executive director and board chair of the Virginia Public Health Association. She was appointed by the governor to the Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority and the Virginia Latino Advisory Board, where she served as chair.
Barbosa is secretary of the board of the Jenkins Foundation and past vice-chair and secretary of the board of Dancing Classrooms of Greater Richmond. She holds a doctorate in social and behavioral health from Virginia Commonwealth University, master’s degrees in public health and city planning from the University of California at Berkeley, and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Smith College. A citizen of the United States and Brazil, she is fully proficient in Portuguese, Spanish, and French, and can converse in German and Catalan.
Veronique N. Walker, Ed.D., L.P.C., N.C.C., is the equity and family empowerment coordinator for Winchester Public Schools. She previously served as a school district associate superintendent, director, and coordinator; a school counselor; and a community in-home therapist and lead family service specialist.
Walker is a licensed professional counselor and a national certified counselor, and has facilitated and organized 150+ trainings, workshops, mentoring sessions, and conferences focused on professional growth and development; multiculturalism and cultural proficiency; bullying prevention, safety, and anti-harassment; mental health and social services; and child, youth, and adolescent trends. She holds a doctor of education degree in organizational leadership and certification in administration and supervision from Shenandoah University, a master of arts degree in counseling from Marshall University, and a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from Shepherd University.
Shenandoah Valley Scholars Latino Initiative Inc (SLI) is a 501c3 nonprofit that supports 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. With support from generous donors, since 2012 SLI has provided more than $380,000 in college scholarship awards, computer awards, and dual enrollment tuition assistance. Its alumni have attended 21 colleges and universities.
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 2001 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.
Dear SLI Community of Support,
Ever since I was a child my mother has encouraged my brothers and me to get an education even though we had little money and few options. She instilled within us the importance of education.
I struggled a lot with English when I first arrived in the U.S., which caused many issues as I couldn’t understand what was going on in class. However, with time and lots of hard work I overcame that barrier and got straight A’s for the majority of my classes.
One of my favorite parts of being in SLI was going to read to little kids who were struggling with reading. It felt amazing to be able to help the kids, as I had once been one of them.
I’m currently studying for a computer science degree, as programming has always been a topic of great interest for me. Thanks to your support, SLI has greatly helped many of my classmates and me be able to pay for college.
John Handley High School ’21
Laurel Ridge Community College
The managing director will play a key role in leading the Scholars Latino Initiative into its second decade of supporting Latino/a/x high school students with college access through rigorous academic challenge, leadership development, scholarships, and supportive mentorships. Full position details and application instructions are at https://vasli.org/apply.
For the second year, graduating seniors in the Sacred Heart Center (SHC) College & Career-Bound Program can apply to receive a $1,000 scholarship sponsored by Canastas Chicken Restaurants, SHC, Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI), and an anonymous donor.
Last year’s recipient was Elizabeth, a graduate of Huguenot High School in Richmond with a goal of studying business and becoming a Realtor.
“There should be no obstacles in life to prohibit you from doing what you really want to do,” she wrote in her scholarship application. “I want to be able to help people find their economical and comfortable home for their future family. In order for me to be able to help out I will have to study very hard and be focused in school.”
Students can apply for the scholarship here. The deadline to apply is June 24, 2022.
About the sponsors:
- 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 (SHC) supports Latinos in Richmond through programs such as adult education, family literacy, citizenship classes, and more.
- Scholars Latino Initiative supports Latino/a/x high school students with college access through rigorous academic challenge, leadership development, scholarships, and supportive mentorships in Harrisonburg, Richmond, and Winchester.
Dear SLI Community of Support,
As a SLI scholar alumnus, I want to express my gratitude to you for your support.
As an immigrant student, my personal and academic journey has taught me a lot about resilience and persistence. With the help of SLI and even as an English learner in high school, I was able to rank 10th in my class. Now as an undergraduate student in college, I have been on the dean’s list since my first year.
Participating in SLI helped me gain vital soft and hard skills that prepared me for my academic career. Additionally, I was able to improve and excel in leadership skills, participating in state-level events and competitions such as the Virginia Future Business Leaders of America and Virginia Boys State of the American Legion.
After earning a college degree I want to become a politician or policy analyst. I will serve my community, specifically the helpless and unprotected people, the ones fighting the odds of socioeconomic, cultural, and even immigration situations, the ones suffering inequality and injustices.
Your support for SLI helps young Latinx students with incredible potential who will give back to their communities, and overall, the entire nation. As is often said, “We cannot help everyone – but everyone can help someone.” If we have the possibility to contribute to a good cause, why should we abstain from doing it? By helping someone, or in this case SLI, we help ourselves in the long run.
Huguenot High School ’20
Eastern Mennonite University ’24
Photo credit: Eastern Mennonite University
Photos courtesy of Cris Ramallo Photography: SLI alumna Rubi speaks to graduating SLI scholars and their families; SLI scholars and mentors with Rubi, SLI program director Ester Orellano, SLI founder Peter Iver Kaufman, and Richmond SLI mentor interim president Sofie Martinez; Rubi, an alumna of the University of Richmond School of Business and of the original SLI. Watch Rubi’s 2021 interview
The following is an excerpt of the April 2022 speech to graduating Richmond SLI scholars and their families by Rubi, an alumna of the University of Richmond School of Business and of the original Scholars Latino Initiative.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI).
It had always been my dream to go to college, and when I toured colleges I would get so excited – but always with a nervous feeling in the back of my mind because I didn’t actually know how I would be able to make it to college. The obstacles seemed so daunting. Not only was I clueless about the college application and admissions process, but also – how would I even pay for college?
SLI gave me and my parents hope, and reinforced my belief that if I was dedicated and determined to fight my way through, I could actually go to college! I realized I had to work even harder than some of my high school peers to get to college, but this newfound challenge of getting my grades up to ensure I could qualify for any college drove me to partner even closer with my SLI mentors and peers, as well as with my high school teachers and even with my parents, to execute on a solid gameplan.
I will admit: It was a challenging process. There was so much I didn’t know about the college application process, and my parents didn’t know either, since they had never had the chance to go to college. I would have been so lost had it not been for SLI, my mentor, my other peers in the program, and, of course, SLI founder Peter Kaufman. I had tons of questions at all times, and my parents did, too, but we were blessed to have this incredibly patient and dedicated team helping us get through them all. And eventually, I got accepted into my top-choice school!
I knew that graduating from college would help level the playing field for me as a Latina in the professional world, and I’m proud to say that thanks to my education and the invaluable support I’ve received throughout the years from the SLI family, I now have an amazing job in Washington, DC at the world’s leading IT research and business advisory firm.
SLI not only creates high-caliber students, but incredibly well-rounded individuals with a generous spirit who go on to give even more to their communities and become essential parts of society.
In closing, I want to wish you all the absolute best in your next adventure! There will be challenges for sure, but when you find yourself intimidated or disheartened, always remember this: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” You’re a fighter, you’ve always been a fighter, and that’s why you’ve been handpicked to be in this great program. You have been armed with an incredible network of support, already with so many accomplishments under you, and you will continue to thrive.
I look forward to hearing about all your future successes because I know you will go on to accomplish so many great things!
“What brings you joy?” Watch SLI scholars Guadalupe, Israel, Amy, Rosely, and Gabriela share in this video for the Community Foundation of Harrisonburg and Rockingham’s Great Community Give:
During the campaign 39 donors contributed $9,350 to SLI’s mission to support Latino/a/x high school students with college access through rigorous academic challenge, leadership development, scholarships, and supportive mentorships. Thank you!