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May 8, 2007 > Affirmative community activism

Affirmative community activism

By Steve Warga

Nearly 30 years ago, a group of prominent Hispanic community members in the greater Tri-City area conceived a forum to debate issues of interest to the Latino community while also sharing employment information and opportunities. The four active founders plus two behind-the-scenes advisers established the Hispanic Community Affairs Council (HCAC) incorporated in 1984. Could they have known then just how wonderfully successful their idea would become? That network of individuals interested in promoting the values of education, cultural diversity, community involvement, and political awareness has greatly expanded since its beginning days.

Earlier this month, HCAC hosted its 25th Annual Scholarship Awards banquet on the veranda outside Chabot College Performing Arts Center in Hayward. The dinner marked a change from the luncheon format of prior years; it preceded a program of entertainment and inspiration during which college scholarships were awarded to 65 local students from low to moderate income families. All recipients are either high school seniors or prior recipients already pursuing four-year degrees. This year's crop of awardees pushed the number of HCAC scholarships over the 1300 mark, totaling well over $1,000,000; nearly $85,000 worth in 2007 alone.

As proof of its genuine devotion to community support, HCAC proudly boasts of a near 100 percent pass-through of donor money to student scholarships. The entire board of directors, plus all advisory board members work as volunteers. Other than routine office expenses - printing, postage, and minimal overhead - every dollar raised goes to students with a firm belief that "education creates opportunity."

A review of selected comments from applicant essays highlights the importance of these scholarship dollars to the awardees. Guadalupe Lopez, James Logan High writes, "Growing up I saw how much my parents worked, and knew college would not be easy due to our economic status."

Edgar Esquivez, currently attending Ohlone College noted, "Excelling in college is very important to me. I am representing all my family members who could never afford the opportunity to go to college."

Past scholarship winners have gone on to a variety of careers and professions. To many, giving back time, talents and money remains an important focus. Among those grateful and accomplished former students is City of Newark Councilmember Ana Apodaca. When her Newark neighbor, Jack Benoun, approached her about the group, she had no idea of what lay in store for her future.

"My next door neighbor talked to me about this group he was active with and supporting back when I was a sophomore in high school. They were doing a fashion show fundraiser and Jack asked if I wanted to be a model in the program. So, I dragged my friend in - you got to have a friend to go with, you know - and we were models that year.

"Many of the [HCAC] board members were models and we all had to practice a few times before the show. That's when I first met Liz Figueroa [former state assembly woman] and Ray Rodriguez [Newark Unified School District board president], among others.

"I kept in touch and then applied for a scholarship when I was a senior in 1991." She adds that her group was not even half the size of this year's recipients.

Apodaca found value far above the dollars she received from HCAC. "The board kind of took me under their wing. They followed me throughout my college years, wanting to know how I was doing and offering advice. So I had a mentor relationship with several mentors."

The Figueroa connection opened doors for Apodaca even before she graduated from Cal State Hayward with a degree in political science. "The last quarter of my senior year, I applied for internships with Congressman Pete Stark's office and Assembly Member Figueroa's. Stark's office said they'd consider me, but Figueroa had just moved up to the Assembly and they said, 'Come on in and get to work.' Apodaca remained on Figueroa's staff for the next decade. She is now a Government Affairs Liason with Kaiser Permanente and devotes many hours to her duties as a Newark city councilmember.

Among the values espoused by HCAC is giving back to your community; one that Apodaca and others learned well. She notes that another of her fellow-recipients, Enrique Martinez, also serves on the current HCAC Board of Directors. Martinez, who is now a partner in the highly regarded firm of Ramirez & Martinez Law Offices, donates big chunks of his time, just like Apodaca and the other directors.

This year, directors spent two long evenings interviewing 150 candidates, then burned no small amount of midnight oil paring the group down to the 65 who appeared on stage at the May 3rd ceremony. Despite the impressive amount of money available from corporate sponsors and individual donors, Apodaca couldn't help noting that raising additional money will benefit other worthy applicants who were denied this year.

To achieve her goal of helping others, Apodaca continues investing her time and energies with HCAC and looks forward to raising greater dollar amounts she'd like to have available. She also prizes relationships she has developed with younger recipients, some of whom she now mentors.

"The reason why I'm on the board is I felt it was important for me to give back to the community of individuals who helped me so much before."

As HCAC swings into the next 25 years, all signs are that their commendable efforts will continue apace. Interested students of Hispanic descent should mark their January 2008 calendars. That's when the '08 applications will be available.

HCAC considers applicants based on the following criteria (in descending order of importance): 1) financial need; 2) scholastic record; 3) evidence of leadership and character; 4) interview.

For more information about applications, donations or memberships, call (510) 581-7468.

Hispanic Community Affairs Council
P. O. Box 3151
Hayward, CA 94540
(510) 581-7468

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