The Hispanic Brotherhood of Rockville Centre awarded scholarships to five students graduating from South Side and Oceanside high schools this year. Each received $1,000 to help with college expenses, and was honored at the Brotherhood’s annual scholarship dinner on May 9.
Since the organization formed in 1984, it has helped the area’s growing Latino community acclimate to life in the United States through children’s after-school programs, housing assistance and other services. Sending Hispanic high school graduates to college with some financial support has long been a part of the mission.
“Most are low-income, first-generation immigrants seeking higher education,” said Margarita Grasing, the Brotherhood’s executive director, “and that’s the type of kid that we want to help. For us, education is a way out of poverty, and it’s important in the world we live in.
“Unfortunately, a lot of Hispanic kids who go to college don’t finish, and money is a big problem,” she continued, “but I do think this community has doctors, lawyers, very well-educated kids coming out. I’m happy to see them going for education and not getting in trouble.”
Students must have an average of 80 or above to apply for the scholarship. They then interview with the scholarship committee and volunteer at the Brotherhood’s after-school program a few days per week. They receive the scholarship in two payments of $500 — one per semester of their freshman year — to put toward incidentals, such as transportation and textbooks.
Ellen Grossman, a board member for the non-profit who serves on its scholarship committee, was “totally impressed” by this year’s recipients.
“These students are very much focused on what they want to study and picked appropriate schools for what they chose,” she said. “It’s nice to see how the students are aiming to go and get into the job market.”
One scholarship awardee, Paula Naranjo, 17, moved to Oceanside from Ecuador in February 2016. She was 13 at the time, and started in the middle of her freshman year at Oceanside High School.
Naranjo’s father had sent her to English classes in Ecuador, and she took mostly English as a New Language, or ENL, courses when she began school in Oceanside. By the end of her sophomore year, she passed a reading and writing test to leave the ENL program and enroll in all non-ENL courses during her junior year.
“It was a huge accomplishment,” Paula said. “When I first got into the high school, I was taking classes with kids just like me. The biggest struggle was to be more open and meet new people, so this helped me relate to more people and make new friends.”
Now, as a senior, Naranjo has completed the Advanced Placement English course. “I never imagined myself taking AP English, since it is my second language,” she said with pride.
Naranjo plans to study business at St. John’s University in Queens and hopes to get ahead in the field by being bilingual and participating in the college’s study-abroad program. “This scholarship is going to help me a lot with paying some of my tuition,” she said. “My dad’s a single father, and we’re trying to get as many scholarships as we can.”
Other recipients expressed gratitude for the Brotherhood’s scholarship award, as it will help alleviate some stress entering the next part of their lives. “It’s easier for me to proceed in college [having this money] for school supplies and tuition,” said Robert Peralta, 18, of Oceanside, who will study science and technology at SUNY Farmingdale.
The students also enjoyed their time volunteering at the Brotherhood’s after-school program, where they tutored and bonded with children in the community.
“It was a great experience and fun working with the kids there,” said Justin Fiallo, 17, a soon-to-be South Side graduate who plans to study nursing at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University. “I might not stop for a while until school starts. It’s a fun place to be, and I was grateful.”
Margaret Barreira, 18, a South Side student, will study nursing at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. “It means a lot to me to get this scholarship, because my family doesn’t have a lot of money and school isn’t cheap,” she said. “And I got to meet really remarkable kids.”
Ana Avendano, 18, will also graduate from South Side this month. She was born in Bogota, Colombia, and moved to Hempstead when she was 5 years old. She then moved to the Rockville Centre School District in 11th grade. Helping out with the after-school program was perfect for her, she said, because she plans to study early childhood education at SUNY Old Westbury in the fall.
“I’m really thankful,” she said. “With the help, I’ll be able to further my career as a teacher and can see myself in a classroom or day care or elementary school in the future.”