A street marketing campaign in Nashville could be a pathway to college for some Latino teens. It’s part of a fundraising drive to provide college scholarships for Latino students like Federico Gonzalez.
“I’m really happy because I finished with my first year in college and I’m helping with this program right now—fundraising the scholarship,” says Gonzalez.
College scholarships are one mission of Latino Achievers, a YMCA program that promotes high school graduation and college among Latino students in Nashville. Gonzalez’ story is typical. He came here from Mexico three years ago, graduated from public high school, but thought he might have little chance of succeeding at a local university.
“I wanted to do it but I wasn’t sure to be in college in the united states because of my language. And I felt that it would be an issue—a hard issue for me. But I did all these things that made me believe that I can do it.”
That message sums up the work of Latino Achievers’ Program Director Carol Cubillo-Seals.
“Latino students in Metro Nashville have 50% graduation rate compared to 87% of your average,” says Cubillo-Seals. “ We’re here to bridge the gap—‘Why are students no graduating? Why are they not continuing to college?’
Cubillo-Seals spends a lot of time in local high schools, meeting with students, encouraging and informing them about the college admissions process. But today, she is trying to reach a broader audience: the listeners on Spanish-language radio in Nashville. The Latino Achievers’ radio-thon seeks donations from the listeners of La Sabrosita 810-AM. As the announcer gives her an enthusiastic welcome, Cubillo-Seals connects with the listeners—through language and information.
“I was inviting the families to participate. But I also was sharing some of the information and the steps to college. You know there’s grants and loans and some you have to pay back and some you don’t; and then telling them about the college process and the scholarships,” says Cubillio-Seals.
“There’s a lot of myth and taboo around the college-going process: ‘I can’t go; it’s too expensive; I don’t have the grades; I’m not smart enough…’ It’s just so little that we have to do to empower students to dream and inspire. Just letting them know that ‘Yes, you can do it and this is how. And I will sit with you and walk with you through this.’
She is echoed by a growing contingent of Latino college students and their parents—who want others to know about the work of Latino Achievers. Several parents showed up for the radio-thon, to give their personal testimonies on air. One of the most enthusiastic is Miguel Valadez.
“My daughter now is in Columbia State College in Franklin. And I’m proud right now because my son is graduating this Saturday at Tennessee Weslyan College,” says Valadez. “Everybody can talk to me. I’m very, very proud for this help.”
Since 2008, Latino Achievers in Nashville has awarded more than 87-thousand dollars in scholarships—money raised from grassroots efforts like the radio-thon and street drives– but with a value that measures much greater than the dollar amount.
“It is pretty big, because when you give out a scholarship, you’re not only giving money to help with books or tuition,” says Cubillo-Seals. “You’re telling a student ‘I believe in you and I’m willing to put my money on you and you’re worth it.’ And that’s huge.”