Latino Scholarship Awards Celebrates 25 Years

By Jennifer L. Warren

WAPPINGERS FALLS – Empowerment and having a voice; these are just two of the authentic pearls embedded in a Hudson Valley Latino Scholarship, according to one of its 2024 recipients, Abigail Ocampo, recognized at its 25th Anniversary Dinner Wednesday night at Café Con Leche.

The Cornwall High School senior, Ocampo, who has garnered a long, impressive list of academic and community accolades, is headed to SUNY New Paltz to pursue a major in International Business in the fall. Similar to her four fellow honorees, carrying equally impressive scholastic resumes, Ocampo is not only deeply appreciative for the monetary assistance the scholarship carries, but so too of the proud, symbolic meanings behind its origins and continued evolvement over the past quarter of a century.

“I really feel like this scholarship is about empowerment,” said Ocampo as she reflected over its uniqueness. “The Hispanic population is underrepresented in many areas, so this scholarship helps give them a voice where they might not have it.”

Recipients of the 2024 Hudson Valley Latino Scholarship Awards display their certificates at Wednesday’s 25th Annual Event. From left are; Ian Rodriguez (Wallkill High School), Nahuel Gutierrez (John Jay High School), Gianna Nicole Chiappini (Dover High School), Abigail Ocampo (Cornwall Central High School) and Olivia Del Castillo (Beacon High School.)
Recipients of the 2024 Hudson Valley Latino Scholarship Awards display their certificates at Wednesday’s 25th Annual Event. From left are; Ian Rodriguez (Wallkill High School), Nahuel Gutierrez (John Jay High School), Gianna Nicole Chiappini (Dover High School), Abigail Ocampo (Cornwall Central High School) and Olivia Del Castillo (Beacon High School.)

It was with that exact intent at the forefront that the late Eddie Ramirez Sr., along with his wife, Norma, created the Hudson Valley Scholarship Foundation. After relocating to this area, the couple witnessed a lack of emphasis-whether it was; activities, youth recognition or simple representation- for their Latin community. Passionate about their Latin heritage, the duo decided to change the narrative, introducing the popular annual Latin Festival at Beacon’s Waterfront as well as make youth-particularly their leadership, academic achievement and community involvement a priority. In 1999, the Hudson Valley Latino Scholarship Fund became a reality; it has not lost momentum since, providing 176 students scholarships.

“For a quarter of a century, the Hudson Valley Latino Scholarship Fund (HVLSF) has been a beacon of hope for countless aspiring students, turning dreams into reality through an unwavering commitment to education,” said Norma Ramirez, HVLSF President. “The fund emerged from a simple but powerful idea: to provide financial assistance to deserving students to pursue higher education; what started as a modest initiative has since blossomed into a thriving organization, transforming the lives of individuals along the way.”

Another one of those individuals whose life was positively altered with a scholarship this year was Dover High School senior, Gianna Nicole Chiappini, who will soon join her brother with the proud distinction of first-generation college student. Headed to Worcester Polytechnic Institute in a few months to start her journey toward becoming an engineer, Chiappini, like fellow recipient Ocampo, expressed unwavering gratitude for the existence of the scholarship as well as the esteemed honor of being selected as one of its recipients.

“I was really motivated to apply for this scholarship,” recalled Chiappini. “My parents were not able to get the education they wanted, when they were younger, and this really helps lessen the burden of what they will have to pay to help me.”

As college tuitions continue to spike, that financial assist need is also escalating, inciting 37 applicants to form this year’s candidate pool. Each of the required essays in the application process revealed youth possessing impressive academic accolades, an eclectic range of scholastic and community involvements as well as impressive character attributes, unwavering drives to succeed, and desire to take on the challenges of leadership roles. The standards for selection are lofty and narrowing the field down is never an easy task; this year’s final five encapsulated all this long-standing scholarship embodies and more.

“It’s really nice to receive a scholarship for my background,” said another scholarship winner, Beacon High School senior, Olivia Del Castillo, who is headed to Wagner College with a focus on becoming a physician’s assistant. “Even more, it’s special to get one for my accomplishments related to my background.”

In addition to the financial scholarship gift, each recipient received a framed certificate formalizing the recognition, a colorful bouquet of flowers and was part of an assortment of proclamations (including from the offices of; U.S. Senator, Charles Schumer; NYS Senator, Rob Rolison; Congressman, Patrick Ryan; Dutchess County Executive, Sue Serino and Poughkeepsie Mayor, Yvonne Flower), commemorating the marked, long-term impact the Scholarship Fund has had on the Hudson Valley over the years. Honorees and their families also absorbed words of life wisdom from Guest Speaker, Victor Guzman, Attorney, at the Hudson Valley Justice Center.

Rounding out this year’s scholarship winners were; Nahuel Gutierrez of John Jay High School and Ian Rodriguez of Wallkill High School.

Eddie Ramirez, Jr. concluded the ceremony, reminding recipients to continue to work hard, always remember where they came from and to keep their families and circle close by as they soon venture out to the next phase of their lives. Board member Ramirez Jr. visibly touched by the living proof of his father’s legacy, also cited a couple in the room who was so inspired by the birth and success of Ramirez Sr.’s Latin Festivals that they undertook a quest to start one of their own on the Newburgh Waterfront this fall. It’s that “ripple effect” that guides everything the Foundation believes and achieves as it looks to the future.

“The Hudson Valley Latino Scholarship Fund remains steadfast in its mission to empower the next generation of leaders, innovators and change makers -with the continued support of donors, volunteers and partners- and invites everyone to join in its journey of creating a brighter more equitable future for all,” said Ramirez Jr. “Together, we can make a difference, one scholarship at a time.”

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