Latino gala to award scholarships

Capital News Service

Alicia Escoto, 19, works two jobs, has student loans and struggles to pay her way through college at the University of Maryland, College Park so she values the goals of the first annual Montgomery County Executive Hispanic Gala to raise scholarship funds for Latino students like her.

“It’s important to me to reach out to more students in the community, to give them the opportunity to be able to study without having to focus on finding a way to finance their studies,” said Escoto, a former intern with the National Hispanic Communications Group and now a communications major.

President and CEO of the group, Lorna Virgili, joined Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett at a news briefing Tuesday to announce the upcoming gala.

The “Latino Dreamers”-themed event, set for Thursday, Sept. 12, at The Fillmore Silver Spring, is designed to celebrate the Maryland Dream Act and raise scholarship funds for Latino students enrolled in Montgomery County and Maryland higher education institutions.

County Executive Leggett stressed the event’s timeliness during Montgomery County’s Hispanic Heritage Month this fall.

“This event will highlight, in one way, but it also will kick off a wonderful month celebrating the contributions of our Latino community and the many contributions they’ve made, not just to Montgomery County, but really throughout the nation, helping this country be what it is today,” he said.

The gala’s all-volunteer organizing committee expects funding to come largely from sponsors, including the County Executive’s Latino American Advisory Group, National Hispanic Communications Group, and Washington Hispanic Newspaper, but ticket sales will also help cover expenses, said Karla Silvestre, Latino liaison for Leggett’s office.

Some of those funds will go toward a minimum of five $2,000 scholarships that the gala’s scholarship committee plans to award to deserving students.

Applications are open to Hispanic students, including those who meet the qualifications for the Maryland Dream Act—a 2012 law granting in-state tuition at four-year universities to undocumented college students who first complete 60 credits or earn an associate’s degree at community college.

Students eligible for the gala scholarships must have a minimum 2.5 grade-point average, live in Montgomery County and attend a Maryland school or institution. Scholarship applications are due in June 2013.

The initiative arose in part from a vision of the county’s Hispanic employees and community leaders to increase graduation rates from Maryland and Montgomery County college-level institutions.

The Fillmore, which debuted in Silver Spring in September 2011, was pleased to offer its 2,000-person capacity venue to host the gala, said sales manager Chris Payton.

“Apart from our very busy culture schedule we absolutely have a purpose here to work with the local community and to do some special events that give something back to the community that gave us this wonderful place,” he said.

National Hispanic Communications Group’s Virgili, chairwoman of this year’s gala, cited her teenage son’s opportunity to attend college as extra inspiration for the gala.

“This event and its objective is a step forward,” she said. “In acknowledging the need within our community to provide assistance to those youngsters who are committed to fulfill their dreams but may lack the financial resources.”

Featured photo: Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, accompanied by gala organizers and sponsors, announces the first annual Hispanic Gala to raise scholarship funds for Latino students in higher education. Capital News Service photo by Allison Goldstein.