May 4, 2023
By: Katherine Trowbridge
On Friday, April 28, over $200,000 in scholarships were awarded to 32 seniors at the annual Hispanic Academic Achievement Award Program (HAAP). With what was stated as “tremendous support from the community” organizers of this year’s scholarship program were able to give so generously. Donors, like Fiesta Foods, who have given for over a decade continue to make the program possible.
The North Franklin School District was well represented with six scholarship recipients.
Guest speaker, Judge Norma Rodriguez, encouraged those gathered to “Continue working hard” and “never give up on yourself.”
Judge Rodriguez is a Pasco High graduate and a trailblazer for Latinos. She sees her position as the first Latina judge as an open door that there will be a second and a third. “You will take my place one day.” Her parents are migrant workers from Texas who met in Washington State and fell in love. With no education themselves they valued education tremendously and instilled that in their children. Judge Rodriguez also worked in the cherry and apple orchards growing up to contribute. Her parents instilled the importance of hard work but also of taking time to enjoy family and appreciate those who help you along the way. She encouraged the students to remember those who helped them: teachers, friends, family. In fact, it was her mom who always told her she would be a judge.
Rodriguez emphasized the importance of having your parents teach you how to write and read Spanish and to practice speaking your language. “It is so important to be bilingual,” she said.
Judge Rodriguez shared, “All the good things aren’t always an easy road to get you there...You’re amazing. Continue to put in the work. All these experiences are building character and strength to handle anything along the way.”
The ceremony featured the scholarship recipients along with high school students with a 3.0 GPA or above.
Connell High School Scholarship recipients are:
Kiera Lagunas, graduating with a 4.0 GPA. She looks forward to attending BYU Utah to pursue sociology. She is involved in ASB, serves in leadership, sports, participates in band, vocal ensemble, and drama, and volunteers in her community. Lagunas shared that she would like to help children who are at risk. Lagunas received a $1,000 scholarship sponsored by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Nancy Martinez (3.68 GPA) plans to attend WSU Tri-Cities and pursue a nursing career. Martinez has volunteered her time to support the office staff at CHS. She works in the fields during the summer and serves as a babysitter in the fall to help support her family. Martinez wants to help support her parents, the two most influential individuals in her life. CHS Science teacher, Jeff Stoker shared, “Through her hard work and dedication to academic achievement, her GPA has risen from 2.55, when she transferred to Connell, to 3.43. Her story is the realization of why I love to teach.” HAAP awarded her with a $2,500 scholarship sponsored by HAPO Credit Union.
Martinez encourages younger students, “Never give up.” Her mom, Irma, expressed, “I feel so very proud of her. I’m very thankful.”
Mayreli Fuentes plans to attend CBC to pursue her Bachelor’s degree in Dental Hygiene. Fuentes has been making the 40-minute drive one way to Tri-Tech to increase her knowledge and skills by taking advantage of their dental assistant program. Her goal is to use her skills as a dental hygienist to give back to her Hispanic community by providing quality care in a bilingual manner.When she is not reading from her favorite books or working part-time at the local meat shop, she is helping her peers by providing support and clarity they need to succeed. Fuentes experessed, “You’ll make it through. I wasn’t going to apply, but I did because my friend told me to. You can win if you just put yourself out there.”
Carmen Calvo is also seeking a career in dental hygiene through Eastern Washington University. She is in the National Honor Society (3.93 GPA), soccer, math team, and track. She volunteers at the local food bank and helps coach soccer for younger children.
Life has not been easy, she and her brother were sent to the US at 7 to help pay for her father’s debt. She began attending school much later than most of her peers; education was not a value her father supported. However, her brother made it a priority that education was an expectation and that it would be the only option. Healing the wounds her father left behind due to alcoholism has not been easy, but with the support of her brothers, she has managed to survive.
She understands that Hispanic professionals are under-represented and intends to contribute to her community by educating herself. She shared, “My life has been difficult being raised by my brother [Ruben], and I plan to use my experience to motivate others not to give up and work towards their goals.”
Calvo received a $3,000 scholarship sponsorship renewable for up to four years for a total of $12,000 from EWU.
Noemi Aguilar(4.0 GPA) (pictured above) will attend the University of Washington, pursuing a nursing degree, and ultimately working in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) Aguilar has received many academic awards, completed a pre-nursing course at Tri-Tech, is a member of the National Honor Society and plays varsity Tennis. HAAP awarded Aguilar with a $6,000 scholarship.
Aguilar said, “My go-to quote is - ‘It’s better to try and fail than never try and not know what could’ve been.”
Kazandra Gomez (3.97 GPA) will graduate from CHS and acquire an associates degree from CBC. Gomez plans to attend WSU and pursue her education degree. She admires teachers and educators and wants to become a math teacher and promote student learning. She is a role model for her six siblings. She is resilient and believes in the power of education, she states,”For me going to school is writing a new story, something positive my siblings can look up to. It would show them that obstacles can be jumped over and our past or family history doesn’t define us.”
HAAP presented Gomez with a $7,500 scholarship sponsored by Sue and Dan Frost. Gomez cried what she called “good tears” as she received her scholarship. Gomez, along with all the other scholarship recipients, were feeling grateful and a bit shocked. She encouraged those coming up behind her, “Work hard and invest in your future now.”
Other recipients included: Chiawana High School: Raul Yael Martinez Castro $2,000, Jennifer Sanchez Nunez $2,500, Janelle Torres $2,500, Jose Linares $3,000 Hailee Mendez $10,000, Aaron Sanchez $10,000 Daniela Rojas $10,000, Omar Pantoja $12,500. Pasco High School: Dulce Gonzalez $2,000, Diana Lopez-Hernandez $2,500, Edgar Meza Badillo $2,500, Paulina Mariah Torres $4,000, Carola Garcia-Mendez $7,500.
The top scholarship of the evening totaling $80,000 - a full-ride scholarship from Heritage University went to Vanessa Aguiano of Kamiakin High School (3.61 GPA). Anguiano came back to the US only two years ago so she could pursue her education. She has quite the story, living with her foster family while her family remains in Mexico. She wants to advocate for the need to address mental health in the Hispanic Community, based on her own experiences within her family. She is passionate about teaching and wants to break the chain of underrepresentation by becoming the first in her family to pursue higher education and a degree in nursing.
HAAP was founded in 1989 and has since awarded over 100,000 certificates to students in grades K-12 and, with the help of area sponsors, $1.6 million in scholarships.