Esperanza, Inc. Promotes Hispanic Education in Cleveland Since 1983
November 12, 2010 · Print This Article
Infomration provided by theOhio Hispanic/Latino Affairs’ Commission
In 1979, Luis Martinez saw a disparity and decided to do something about it. He recognized that very few scholarships from the local scholarship fund were given to Latino students and started organizing the Cleveland Hispanic Scholarship Fund. His first grant of a $250 scholarship to a single student evolved into a fund that has presented 600 scholarships over the last 25 years.
The fund was renamed Esperanza (hope) in 1994. Esperanza has been transformed into an agency that promotes Hispanic education from the toddler years through the golden years, with programs that involve any and all the members of a family, and keep students from dropping out of high school and interested in pursuing a career.
“Much of the investment stays in the community and helps create generations of individuals who will support Cleveland. Esperanza not only assists people with scholarships, but it’s a motivator for our youth to understand there’s someone who cares for them,” says Martinez, who served as the first Hispanic liaison for the City of Cleveland (1981-1986) under Mayor George Voinovich, and is now president emeritus of Esperanza.
Esperanza’s distinguished alumni include Felicia Soto, who is also an executive with Chase Bank; Andres Gonzales, director of diversity at the Cleveland Clinic; Miguel Torres, head of personnel for Home Depot, and many more.
Growing Pains and Teachable Moments
As Martinez and others can attest, organizations go through cycles and evolution. Esperanza has had these moments too. In 2004, the agency faced a difficult time. The dedication and commitment of the team was crucial in coming through this test. Esperanza regained their United Way agency status and revamped all of the programming. Today, a diverse staff occupies an entire floor in a building. The group has learned to work with limited resources and is very creative and they are committed to keeping their doors open to continue to support the community.
Today, Esperanza has grown beyond scholarships, providing impressive quality programs and classes throughout the entirety of the day, keeping the center in use every day of the week, even through the holidays.
Navigate through Esperanza’s Web site and you’ll immediately realize this agency is well-organized, full of energy and passionate about enhancing educational and economic opportunities for Hispanic Americans in the Cleveland area. Maybe it’s because it works with young populations, or maybe it’s because of its staff, but in everything it does, Esperanza reflects and models an image that pays homage to its name: hope.
The impact to the community is great because it provides children and parents with hope. They know Esperanza Inc. will provide them with possibilities to improve their lives. There are no fees associated with taking classes at Esperanza, and individuals can attend as many classes during the week as they wish.
“Esperanza serves the needs of its community. It plays a role in holding the community together,” said Cleveland’s Mayor Frank Jackson in a visit to the center. “Esperanza fills the educational gap some times parents cannot fill. Without their programs, our community would be a decade behind,” added during that same visit Councilman Joe Santiago, who serves Ward 14 since 2005.
Lack of money for advertising and marketing has not kept the non-profit from becoming a center of attraction and influence. “Most of it is word of mouth; at graduation for adult classes, for example, family members are inspired and they want to participate in the courses. Sometimes entire families become engaged with the Center. The kids tell the parents about classes and before you know it, everyone finds something of interest at Esperanza.
The after-school tutoring also increased student attendance from 12 students in the fall of 2008 to 15 in spring. The program counts with nine active volunteers who assist with the tutoring.
SISCO II/Youth Leadership Program for grades 9-12 graders has 31 students and four volunteers from Cleveland State University. The program offers merit activities which include field trips, service learning projects, and social clubs.
Esperanza’s Latina Leadership Alliance (ELLA) and Esperanza’s Latino Leaders for Outstanding Society, (ELLOS) the organization’s newest gender-specific programs for teens, brings groups of young men and women together with Hispanic leaders to encourage personal and professional development. Each group allows students to discuss issues relevant to them while considering solutions to community and family challenges. In its first year, Ella had 20 students meeting monthly and Ellos had 10.
Prime Time for Reading is a summer enrichment program with capacity for 30 students, kindergarten through fifth-grade. Using a literacy-based curriculum developed by Cleveland Reads, limited-English-speaking Hispanic students improve their reading ability, academic skills, and love of reading.
The Computer Resource Center classes enhance the academic and computer skills of young people attending school and improves computer literacy for adults for their personal enjoyment and job readiness. The Center provides a free-access location and free classes year-round for youth and adults. In the year 2008, in the category of students 18 years of age and older, the center offered classes to 494 enrolled adult students. In the first class of 2009, 106 students have been served.
“I enjoy watching the students grow and succeed,” says Millie Feliciano, who graduated from Esperanza’s program in 2003 and went on to be its computing class coordinator.
The Youth Leadership program’s mission is to provide the students with leadership opportunities through community service, academic support, and life and employment skills via their after school program.
The Mentorship program pairs individuals who can coach, sponsor, guide, advocate and role model with students. The objective is to provide instructional support, promote greater involvement in school activities, encourage responsible behavior, foster a positive self-image, help protégés develop post-high school plans and expand awareness of career possibilities and the realities of the world-of work. This program is geared to students 8-14 years of age. It had 48 students in the fall of 2008 and has grown to 72 students for the spring of 2009. Five volunteers assist in this initiative. Esperanza’s fund raising efforts are at the core of the organization’s existence, with two large annual fund raisers aimed at sustaining its scholarship program:
1. Esperanza’s Annual Fiesta of Hope Hispanic Scholarship Awards Luncheon celebrates Hispanic youth, education, and achievement.
2. Viva La Salsa is an annual fund raising celebration of Hispanic music and culture. The funds raised by this event are used to provide educational opportunities for Hispanic-Americans in the greater Cleveland area.
Esperanza’s Scholarship Program
The Esperanza Scholarship Program awards college scholarships annually to eligible Hispanic students who reside in Cuyahoga and Lorain counties. Since 1994, Esperanza has awarded over 600 scholarships. In 2008, Esperanza awarded 39 students with 44 scholarships worth $30,000 total.
“Growing up in the inner city, you start doubting yourself, what you could or could not achieve. Esperanza provides that hope, and the funds and mentors needed to succeed. No other organization can show the results that Esperanza has shown in this community for a quarter of a decade. It’s priceless,” says Andres Gonzalez, a scholarship recipient in 1994 and 1993, and the current director of the Office of Diversity at the Cleveland Clinic.
“To me, it was the exposure to what’s out there. It really has an impact in your career. It’s not about the money, but about the investment they made in me. And now, through my job, I can give back to the community,” says Jisabelle Garcia, relationship manager for Key Bank.
The staff’s sense of realization and satisfaction comes from knowing the work of Esperanza makes a difference. There is the student in a computer training program who worked as a waitress for 16 years. She took a résumé writing and marketing classes, and took the Dress for Success course. She applied for employment as administrative assistant and scored the highest, landing a full time job with benefits. Or the story of the hairstylist who six years ago took a computer class and realized she had a passion for this field, opening the door to a new career for her. Since then she’s become computer center instructor.
Planting the Seeds for the Future
To celebrate the past 25 years, Esperanza, now averaging $39,000 in annual scholarships presented to students in the community, created an Endowment Fund. The Funds’ goal is to raise 1.25 million dollars, and the money currently raised won’t be touched until that goal is met. “We’ll use the interest earned by the scholarship fund to sustain our programs and create new programs. We are asking people in the community to give a pledge,” says Martinez, who is co-chairing the fund with board president, Felicia Soto.
The fund is managed by the Cleveland Foundation. Its honorary chairs are Lorraine Vega from Key Bank, City of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, and Jose Feliciano, partner at Baker & Hostetler.
”More and more families have seen the importance of supporting educational activities and many times they donate funds to scholarships on behalf of a family member who has passed away. We continue to create a model for education. There’s so much to do, but we have limited resources. There are brilliant ideas, but we need to go knock on everyone’s doors. People like Joe Lopez, from New Era Builders, who recognized the importance of the fund and was one of the first supporters of it,” says Martinez. The fund has already received $125,000 in contributions from the community.
“I would like to thank Esperanza, Inc. for their work with providing college scholarships to students who would not ordinarily have access to a good education and all of the opportunities that come with that kind of achievement,” said Honorary Chair of Endowment Mayor Frank G. Jackson. “Your commitment to helping young people reach their full potential for some 25 years is certainly commendable.”
Martinez, a Vietnam veteran, twice wounded experienced the true hardship of third world countries and realized we have so much here, in the United States. “Our young people are fantastic, what they need is support and encouragement. We need to set high standards for them so that they realize their full potential,” he says.
To learn more about Esperanza, Inc. please go to http://www.esperanzainc.com