Three dozen Latino students will receive scholarships at the annual fundraiser.
Berenice Alcala always wanted to attend college. Her parents — who moved from Mexico to the United States when she was just a year old — taught her the importance of education. In 2017, Alcala received a scholarship from the Hispanic Women’s Organization of Arkansas that helped start her college career.
Today she serves as the Springdale nonprofit’s event coordinator and is helping organize the group’s 24th annual Cinco de Mayo Festival, which is Saturday at The Jones Center.
“I never imagined that I would actually be raising funds for the same scholarship fund that supported me back when I was in high school,” Alcala says.
Founded in 1999, HWOA’s goal is to celebrate education, culture and community. The nonprofit has awarded more than 500 scholarships during the last two decades. The annual scholarship is available to traditional and nontraditional students who want to attend a higher education institution regardless of whether it’s a university, community college or technical school. This year, individual scholarships are being increased from $1,000 to $1,500 and they will be awarded to 30 Latino students from around the state.
“Seeing the number of applicants increase every year speaks volumes of the interest among the Latino families to seek a better life through education,” executive director Margarita Solórzano says. “The 30 students were selected from dozens of applicants — all very deserving candidates who excel in their scholastic achievements, leadership and community service — making it very difficult for the selection committee to select only 30.”
The annual Cinco de Mayo Festival serves as a fundraiser for the HWOA Scholarship Fund and 2022 marks the first time the event will be in-person since the start of the pandemic. The free, family-friendly event will feature food vendors, live music, dance performances, a fashion show and a scholarship ceremony for this year’s recipients.
Alcala, like many of the scholarship awardees, is a first-generation college student. After graduating from high school, the HWOA scholarship allowed her to earn associate’s degrees at NorthWest Arkansas Community College before transferring to the University of Arkansas. She plans to fulfill her “lifelong dream” of graduating from college when she completes coursework for her marketing major in December.
“That’s why I completely am behind this mission and this work that the organization does because I personally know how helpful that was to me as a student,” she says.
By accomplishing her dream, Alcala is setting an example for her younger brother and sister who are also considering furthering their education. Alcala credits her parents for teaching her the importance of a higher education and for being her motivation and strength when times are challenging.
“I see them and how hard they work as well, and honestly part of me does it for them because I want to be able to return all of the sacrifices they have made for me — like leaving their home country so that I can have a better future,” she says.
The latest generation of high school scholarship recipients will be honored Saturday during HWOA’s annual Cinco de Mayo Festival. Admission is free to the event, which will take place from 12 to 7 p.m. at The Jones Center in Springdale. More information is available at www.hwoa.org