Group seeks to honor Hispanic
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 7, 2005 12:00 AM
The Hispanic Heritage Awards
Foundation is looking for a dozen leaders: Latino teens committed to academic
excellence with a solid track record of community service.
Students like Lorenzo Stirk, of Phoenix.
Stirk emigrated from Chihuahua, Mexico, at 13. Four years later, he was honored
by the foundation for his 3.7 grade-point average, artistic abilities and good
works, including helping with clothing and food drives, neighborhood cleanups
and volunteering at local schools.
That dedication earned Stirk a $3,000 scholarship, which he's using to study
architecture at Paradise Valley Community College.
This year, a dozen other Valley students will snare Hispanic Heritage Youth
Awards, an honor that comes with $2,000 to $3,000 scholarships and a bid at six
national awards netting additional $5,000 scholarships, laptops and trips to
Miami and Washington, D.C.
"I never could've gone to college without this scholarship, which helped me pay
for tuition and books," said 18-year-old Stirk. "But it was also great to meet
other Latino kids, like me, from struggling families, that were attaining their
goals. That was very inspiring."
Inspiring Hispanic youths to attend college is precisely the point, because of
the nation's alarming Latino dropout rate, organizers said. Using teen leaders
to get the message across could help slash the high school dropout rate because
youths often respond best to peer role models, said Frank Granillo, a counselor
with Arizona State University's Educational Opportunity Center.
Hispanics drop out at nearly double the rate of Anglos and Asian Americans,
which hovers at about 25 percent, according to the National Center for Education
Statistics. What's more, the Kids Count 2003 study by the Annie E. Casey
Foundation ranked Arizona 50th among states for the worst dropout rate.
Phoenix has "a very alarming Latino dropout rate that needs to be addressed,"
Granillo said. "But we also have Latino teens doing great, which often goes
To qualify for the program, now in its eighth year, students must be of Hispanic
descent, have U.S. citizenship or legal permanent residency, and graduate in
Students apply in six categories: journalism, health and science, sports,
academic excellence, community service, and engineering and math, and write an
essay outlining how their Hispanic ancestry impacted their lives.
"How you feel about your heritage could indicate how willing you are to give
back to your community later," said Mary Lou Valenzuela, a Phoenix region
volunteer. "That's pertinent, since our mission is to find those willing to
continue serving as role models."
Those who make it to the national winners' circle travel, all expenses paid, to
Miami to receive their award. They're then feted at the Hispanic Heritage Awards
at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The
star-studded event airs on NBC and Spanish-language network Telemundo.
Ultimately, the goal is to show Hispanic children that postsecondary degrees are
attainable, because families with limited resources often discard college as an
option for their kids, said Gerald Vukas, who produces Phoenix's awards program
"We want kids to know that that they can aspire to succeed, regardless of their
backgrounds and economic situations, by showing them examples of kids already
doing just that," he said.
Applications are due Friday and are available online at www.hispanicheritage
awards.org and at participating Subway restaurants.