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

    From healthcare to space, SLI scholars explore college and career opportunities to “make our world a better place”

    HARRISONBURG, VA / December 2, 2023 – Approximately 60 high school and college students attended the annual James Madison University Professors in Residence (PIR) and Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) College and Career Access Day at JMU, which for the first time featured local Sentara Health professionals sharing their expertise in promoting salud y comunidad, or health and community. 

    Supported by JMU’s Office of Inclusive Excellence and Engagement and Office of Admissions, the day was coordinated by Carlos Alemán, Ph.D, a JMU professor in residence at Harrisonburg City Public Schools and a SLI program director. JMU undergraduates in the student organization SLI Mentors assisted with catering planning and welcomed participants as campus hosts.

    “Young people are more motivated than ever to make our world a better place as leaders, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and scientists,” said Alemán. “Connecting first-generation high school students with the resources to pursue these ambitions and careers through higher education is an invigorating experience.”

    Additional support for the event came from Sentara Health through a grant that earlier this year also helped fund SLI scholarships for 18 SLI scholars currently pursuing college degrees in health-related fields. For College and Career Access Day, Sentara provided access to employees who shared with students about healthcare professions and opportunities. They included:

    • Silvia Garcia-Romero, Director, Diversity & Inclusion
    • Onesimo Baltazar Corona, Director of Operations (Harrisonburg), Sentara Community Care
    • Gladys Zito, Language Services Coordinator
    • Mayra Gavia Molina, Registered Nurse
    • Zulma Argueta, Community Health Worker

    In addition, Sentara physician assistant Leodegario Alonso provided the keynote address, sharing about persistence on his career journey, and encouraging students to forge their own pathways. Alonso holds degrees from Eastern Mennonite University and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Before becoming a physician assistant, he worked as a radiologic technologist, Futuro Latino Coalition specialist, medical interpreter, and United States Army Reserve drill sergeant.

    “It is very powerful to have someone like Leo, who looks like the scholars, share a story that resonates with them and inspires them to continue on their career path,” said Garcia-Romero. “These experiences are so impactful and make a difference in Latino career advancement, and this is why we are proud to be a partner and support SLI’s work.” 

    Participating SLI scholars, who attended from Harrisonburg and John Handley (Winchester) High Schools, were also invited to explore how to use medical equipment such as blood pressure monitors, CPR masks, and digital thermometers.

    JMU has supported PIR-SLI College Access Day since 2016. The addition to the program of career professionals and support by Sentara Health marks a development in networking opportunities for attending students. 

    Academic exploration sessions connected students with JMU professors who shared about their curricula and areas of expertise. Topics and presenters included:

    • Graduate Studies Opportunities, Melissa Alemán, Ph.D.
    • Foreign Languages and Cultures, Verónica Davila Ellis, Ph.D.
    • Communication and Relations, Reslie Cortés, Ph.D.
    • Space and Physics, Prayash Sharma Pyakurel, Ph.D.
    • Immigration and Justice, Graciela Perez, Ph.D.
    • Politics and Political Science, Kristin Wylie, Ph.D.

    Participants also toured the JMU campus and were treated to lunch in D-Hall.

    ABOUT SLI

    With programs in Harrisonburg, Richmond, and Winchester, Virginia, Scholars Latino Initiative supports 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, plus 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.

  • All Posts,  Events,  SLI News

    Merienda ’23 celebrates SLI

    HARRISONBURG, VA – It may have been a rainy late summer day, but the Merienda ’23 celebration of SLI’s mission – to support Latinx high school students with college access through rigorous academic challenge, leadership development, scholarships, and supportive mentorships – was an evening not to be missed.

    The 2023 version of SLI’s annual event, Merienda recognized the successes of SLI scholars, as well as the generous support from community businesses, organizations, foundations, and individuals that makes possible SLI’s ever-increasing impact. A full list of event sponsors is below.

    “Not only did [SLI] equip me with a wealth of knowledge about higher education, but it also instilled a sense of belonging within me,” recalls Jennifer, a SLI scholar now studying public health and data science at William & Mary. “Often, students from underrepresented backgrounds experience feelings of displacement or inadequacy. I would say SLI encouraged me to apply for other Hispanic college programs, volunteer opportunities, and colleges because it made me feel worthy of these opportunities.”

    Since its incorporation in 2012 SLI has awarded students from Harrisonburg, Richmond, and Winchester more than $545,000 in college scholarships, computer awards, and dual enrollment and Advanced Placement tuition assistance, including $143,000 in awards this summer alone. Its alumni have attended 24 colleges and universities. Watch SLI Beginnings

    “At Merienda ’23 we not only marked the start of Latino Heritage month, but we also recognized the tremendous accomplishments of our students and those who help make it all possible – nuestra comunidad del Valle de Shenandoah,” said Stephania Cervantes, SLI managing director.

    The event, which netted nearly $22,000 for SLI’s mission, featured locally sourced meriendas such as pupusas, empanadas, tamales, tres leches cake, churros, and much more; wine and local beers; coffee and hot chocolate con canela; dancing to the live “Mexilachian” music of Lua Project; SLI swag; and raffle prizes, all at Sunny Slope Farm.

    During the event Virginia Latino Higher Education Network president and former SLI board member Karina Kline-Gabel (below left) presented SLI managing director Stephania Cervantes and SLI board chair Fawn-Amber Montoya with micro-grants for SLI scholars to help purchase college supplies.

    Photo by Karla Hernandez

    Support for Merienda ’23 came from the many people who purchased tickets as well as many generous sponsors:

    Photo by Noemi Clymer Kurtz
  • All Posts,  Events,  SLI News

    ¡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.


    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.”


  • All Posts,  Events,  Richmond,  SLI News

    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)

  • Richmond SLI 2022 graduation
    All Posts,  Events,  Richmond,  SLI News

    SLI alumna speaks to graduating scholars in Richmond

    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! 

  • All Posts,  Events,  Expressions of Gratitude,  Harrisonburg,  Richmond,  SLI News,  Winchester

    SLI scholars share joy and gratitude during the Great Community Give

    “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!

  • All Posts,  Events,  Harrisonburg,  SLI News

    Noche de Salsa ’21: Appreciations / Agradecimientos

    A celebration of college access opportunities for Scholars Latino Initiative scholars, COVID-conscious Noche de Salsa ’21 at Steven Toyota in Harrisonburg featured a Latin-flavor drive-thru dinner & margarita with park & watch live Salsa dancing and an online raffle. WATCH THE SLI APPRECIATIONS VIDEO.

    In the following video, learn about SLI directly from its scholars and read their notes of thanks, plus hear from SLI Board Chair Jason Good and recognize Noche de Salsa’s generous sponsors. *La presentación en español de Jason Good, el presidente de la junta directiva de SLI, está abajo.



    Thank you!

    A message from Jason Good, Chair of the SLI Board of Directors:

    On behalf of the board of the Scholars Latino Initiative, thank you for your support. Thank you, thank you. By partnering with SLI, you undoubtedly directly made a positive impact in our communities. Since our founding in the Shenandoah Valley in 2012, our SLI family of supporters has consistently grown through new donors and increasing generosity, driving our work to support Latino/x high school students with college access through rigorous academic challenge, leadership development, scholarships, and supportive mentorships.

    In just the last five years, you have tripled your donations. Tripled. As a volunteer board and a community based non-profit organization, this immense generosity makes our work possible. These donations have a direct impact on the scholars. In 2021, our annual budget now has over $100,000 allotted for direct scholar financial support through scholarships, computer awards, and dual enrollment support. The family of SLI scholars now has grown to 118 current scholars and alumni who have attended more than 20 colleges and universities.

    We are not an organization that only provides financial support. SLI is built on providing comprehensive support and partnership with students through rigorous academic challenge, leadership development, and supportive mentorships. Our programming directors, including university faculty and high school teachers, are truly training the leaders of tomorrow.

    We are humbled and honored by the stories of incredible scholars. Alex, arriving in the US as a freshman in high school from El Salvador without speaking English, joined SLI as a sophomore at Harrisonburg High School and by the end of his junior year had a 4.1 GPA, was taking multiple AP, dual enrollment, and honors courses, and is planning on studying computer science in college.

    Ángela, a first generation SLI college student, shared “Scholars Latino Initiative has changed my life tremendously and has provided me with help in many ways, giving me guidance and helping me financially and emotionally… When I had the opportunity to join SLI, I saw doors open my way. I was able to meet more people like me who wanted to achieve their dreams. I was able to connect with important people who would academically guide me to choose the right path for my future.”

    Thank you for joining us on this day and for your incredible generosity. We are honored to work in the Harrisonburg community and partner with incredible organizations, companies, schools, and community members like you.

    ¡Gracias!

    Un mensaje de Jason Good, el presidente de la junta directiva de SLI:

    De parte de la junta directiva de Scholars Latino Initiative, gracias por su apoyo. ¡Gracias, gracias! Al colaborar con SLI, sin duda, han tenido un impacto positivo en nuestras comunidades. Desde nuestro establecimiento en el valle en 2012, nuestra familia de partidarios ha crecida con donantes nuevos y generosidad cada vez mayor, haciéndolo posible realizar nuestro trabajo apoyando estudiantes Latinos y Latinx con crear oportunidades de estudiar una carrera universitaria desde nuestros programas de preparación académica, desarrollo de liderazgo, becas, y mentores y amistades que ofrecen un apoyo social y la fortaleza para enfrentarse a las dificultades que acompañan acceder al sistema educativo.

    En solo los últimos cinco años, han triplicado las donaciones. Triplicado. Como una junta directiva voluntaria y una organización comunitaria sin ánimo de lucro, esta generosidad inmensa resulta en que nuestro trabajo sea posible. Estas donaciones tienen un impacto directo con los estudiantes. En 2021, nuestro presupuesto ahora tiene más de cien mil dólares asignados para apoyo financiero estudiantil directo a través de becas para la matrícula universitaria, becas para computadoras y becas para los cursos dual-enrollment. La familia de scholars de SLI ha crecido a 118 estudiantes actuales y ex alumnos quienes han asistido a más de 20 universidades.

    No somos una organización que solo ofrece apoyo financiero. SLI fue establecido con la filosofía de proveer apoyo comprensivo que incluye preparación académica, desarrollo de liderazgo, y mentores y amistades de apoyo. Nuestros directores de programas, incluyendo profesores universitarios y maestros de las escuelas, verdaderamente están preparando los líderes del futuro.

    Las historias y testimonios de los estudiantes nos dan honor y humildad. Alex, llegando a los Estados Unidos en noveno grado de El Salvador sin hablar inglés, empezó con SLI en su segundo año de Harrisonburg High School y a terminar su tercer año tenía un GPA de 4.1, estaba tomando varias clases de AP, dual enrollment y honores, y está planeando estudiar ciencias de computación en la universidad.

    Ángela, una alumna de SLI de primera generación universitaria comentó que SLI ha cambiado su vida de una manera tremendo y la ha ayudado de varias maneras, dándole apoyo y ayudándola emocionalmente y financieramente. Cuando tenía la oportunidad de empezar con SLI, vio puertas abrir y tenía la oportunidad de conocer a otros como ella quienes querían realizar sus sueños. Podía conectar con personas importantes quienes la ayudaron a escoger el camino correcto para su futuro.

    Gracias por estar con nosotros en este día y por su generosidad increíble. Tenemos el honor de trabajar en la comunidad de Harrisonburg y colaborar con organizaciones, compañías, escuelas y miembros de la comunidad increíbles como ustedes.

    Jason Good, Chair
    SLI Board of Directors

    And Thank you! to the local businesses and organizations that donated raffle prizes:

    Raffle winners have been notified by email.

  • All Posts,  Events,  Harrisonburg,  Richmond,  SLI News,  Winchester

    Careers Panel Discussion highlights possibilities for SLI scholars

    Moderated by Karina Kline-Gabel, vice chair of the SLI board of directors and of the Virginia Latino Advisory Board, this Scholars Latino Initiative presentation for SLI scholars and additional student groups in Harrisonburg, Richmond, and Winchester featured leaders sharing about their careers and professional experiences.

    Panelists included:
    *Maribel Castañeda, Director of Appointments and Director of Latino Outreach, Governor Ralph S. Northam
    *Kevin Gabel, Director of Construction Management, Lantz Construction
    *Silvia Garcia-Romero, Cultural Diversity Manager, Sentara RMH
    *Patty Gavilan, RN, CMI – Manager, Language Services Department, Bon Secours Mercy Health
    *Tanya Gonzalez, Executive Director, Sacred Heart Center
    *Charles A. Martorana, Valley Region President, Blue Ridge Bank

  • All Posts,  Events,  Harrisonburg,  SLI News

    Great Community Give ’21

    Thank you, Great Community Give!

    Sixty-six donors gave $15,246 to help Scholars Latino Initiative provide college scholarships, computer awards, dual enrollment tuition assistance, and college opportunities for Latinx students.

    As SLI alumna Elly said recently: “SLI was a very eye-opening program for me. I had amazing mentors who guided me in my educational path, as well as that ‘push’ to keep me going. From not believing I could obtain a college degree to now working on my graduate degree is honestly a huge blessing and a great honor to my family!”

    Thanks to the Give, SLI’s community of support is growing – which means greater impact for SLI scholars like Elly.

  • All Posts,  Events,  Richmond,  Scholar Features,  SLI News

    Meet SLI in Richmond (2021)

    Discover the Scholars Latino Initiative’s Richmond, Virginia, program through the experiences of its scholars, mentors, and founder in this virtual gathering’s highlights reel:

    The event was sponsored by Truist Financial and hosted by Lyons Sanchezconcha of the Virginia Latino Advisory Board and Amelia Castañeda of Richmond Public Schools.