by M. Yesenia Summers
(Plain Press, June 2017) Hope is defined as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” On Cleveland’s west side, there is a place that provides hope to teenage youth; this place is called Esperanza; Spanish for Hope. Esperanza provides education, support and scholarships to Northeast Ohio, Hispanic students. The non-profit organization also provides support to families as well; through proven, measurable programs and passionate staff and leadership. I had the pleasure of talking to Felicia Soto, Associate Director of Esperanza.
- How did Esperanza begin? What was the motivation?
- Esperanza began with just one scholarship to a college student in the early 1980s. The motivation was driven by one of the founders, Luis Martinez, who had returned to Cleveland after serving in the military and wanted to support a student who was pursuing a college degree. A group of community supporters recognized the need to expand services by adding programs to address the educational needs of the organization.
- Can you briefly describe a program that Esperanza offers?
- Two of our newest programs support a big component of our current strategic plan. While Esperanza started with a college scholarship, there were no programs to provide support to aspiring college students. The programs are based on curriculum developed by National Council of La Raza (NCLR).
In January, Esperanza launched our College Mentoring program to our scholarship recipients and other college students. In addition, college freshman and sophomores can join the Lideres Avanzando college retention program which includes a series of workshops designed to provide college students with the skills and resources to navigate college life while building a support network of their peers. Esperanza’s first pilot cohort completed the program in April and marking the end of their program by completing a service project. A car wash fundraiser held on May 20th raised funds to contribute to their own scholarships at this year’s Fiesta of Hope luncheon on June 16th.
- Are there any pre-qualifications that youth must meet before joining Esperanza?
- Esperanza currently serves students in high school and college. However, through our engagement in the United Way wrap around strategy, Esperanza has a presence at Luis Munoz Marin Middle School. In addition, Esperanza serves students of all ages at our annual Back to School Event to be held on August 12th this year.
- How can the public become involved in helping Esperanza?
- There are many ways the public can get involved with Esperanza. A mentor can make a major impact in the life of a student. Becoming a mentor to a high school student or joining the group mentoring programs for young men and women can be just as rewarding to our volunteers as it is to our students. If time is a concern, our College Mentoring program requires only 30 minutes a month to support a college student and can be done using social media, phone or email. In addition, Esperanza continuously seeks volunteers to support tutoring, provide ESL, GED, and computer classes to our adult learners through our Family Engagement programs.
- What is the most challenging part of working at Esperanza?
- The biggest challenge of working at Esperanza is common amongst most non-profits. Funding and resources are always a challenge that impact how many students and families we can serve and just how far we can go to deliver the programs and experiences that can transform a student’s life.
- What is your favorite part of working at Esperanza?
- There is nothing like seeing the smile on the face of a student who has achieved a goal, overcome a challenge and proved to themselves that they “can do it!” My favorite part of working at Esperanza is being a part of a student’s journey from self-doubt to self-confidence and witnessing the transformation as they learn, grow and achieve.