HARRISONBURG — Shenandoah Valley Scholars Latino Initiative has provided first-generation Latino high school students with college opportunities since its founding in 2012.
The initiative has served more than 80 students from Harrisonburg High School and John Handley High School in Winchester with “rigorous academic challenges, leadership development, supportive mentorships and scholarship awards,” according to Carlos Galvan Alemán, the SLI program director for Academic and Leadership Development at James Madison University.
SLI has awarded $116,000 in scholarships, $24,000 in computer awards and more than $9,000 in tuition costs for dual-enrollment students since 2015.
The scholars have attended JMU, Harvard University, University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Eastern Mennonite University, George Mason University, Old Dominion University, Blue Ridge Community College and Bridgewater College.
“When I think of the sheer talent of the students that we’re working with, especially how far they’ve come in their own academic development when students are, for example, recent immigrants, it’s difficult to imagine them not going to college and how they would have been overlooked,” Alemán said.
SLI plays an important role in bringing a sense of identity and community to the first-generation Latino students, who find safety and support through the program.
“We have a number of diverse first-generation students in Harrisonburg, and the Hispanic community is fragmented in terms of their status, in terms of their identities and in terms of their affiliations to home countries,” he said. “It’s difficult to find not only one sense of community around identity, but at least an organization where issues of college education, whether that is access or finance or even family management, can be talked about with a shared sense of culture.”
As a nonprofit organization, SLI relies on financial support from the community to ensure that immigrants and children of immigrants are provided college opportunities to relieve them of financial burden.
“It’s humbling. It’s such a reward for us,” Alemán said. “I know the money is important to them, but we try to see it as the opportunity to be seen — opportunities to be recognized — because nobody’s looking for them.”
SLI will host its third annual Noche de Salsa fundraising event on April 27 in the showroom of Steven Toyota at 2970 S. Main St., from 6:30 to 10 p.m.
The night will include salsa music and dancing, live performances and dinner from local restaurants.
“It’s a good cause and would be well worth supporting,” said Christopher Clymer Kurtz, the director of development for Shenandoah Valley Scholars Latino Initiative.
El Charro, Pupuseria El Milagro y Tienda Latina, and El Sol will be catering Hispanic fare, which is included in the $50 advanced ticket price.
Grupo Candela, JMU Latino Student Alliance’s Latin dance team, will perform during the event. The dance troupe, formed in 2010, performs salsa, merengue, bachata and reggaeton dance styles.
Guests can also salsa dance during the DJ set. Beer and wine will be served.
The 50-50 raffle will give attendees a chance to take home a monetary prize.
“Everyone buys a raffle ticket, and half of the money raised goes to the winner and we keep the other half,” Clymer Kurtz said.
SLI hopes to raise up to $20,000 from Noche de Salsa.
The funds raised will also go toward SLI’s programming and outreach at the high school. Alemán, an associate professor in JMU’s School of Communication Studies, is a Professor in Residence at HHS, a program through JMU’s Office of Access and Enrollment to target underserved high school students.
Alemán teaches an early college seminar where he gives the students assignments and gives feedback as a college professor would. Their project this semester is to interview family members on their immigrant origin stories, and JMU students in Latin American Studies will craft the interview data into a narrative form, Alemán said.
“We’ve met the JMU students on the JMU campus three times so far,” he said. “That project is unique to this semester.”
Alemán also works with college admissions officers to give the high school students a sense of what incoming freshmen need to be admitted. He helps the students build writing skills and integrated portfolios that show a well-rounded course list and community service experience.
Each year SLI awards the College Award, a one-time scholarship of up to $5,000, and the Computer Award, which is a direct award for the purchase of a computer up to $1,000.
The nonprofit will have more information about SLI’s programs and awards at Noche de Salsa.
Tickets to the event increase to $75 at the door. The event is for ages 21 and older. To buy tickets online visit www.svsli.org.