It’s hard to attend Latino functions without bumping into past scholarship recipients, volunteers and board members representing the Latin American Educational Foundation (LAEF). The spectrum of LAEF scholarship recipients and various associates includes artists, attorneys, CEOs, nonprofit directors, accountants, journalists, military veterans, physicians, government officials and just about any other career you might imagine.
The impact from one of the nation’s oldest scholarship-awarding organizations becomes challenging to measure until you meet the student scholars and dedicated and grateful professionals.
Since its founding in 1949, LAEF has awarded an estimated $5 million in scholarships to students pursuing higher-education degrees at colleges nationwide. Although 63-years-old this year, LAEF is nowhere near retirement age.
In fact, this year’s Gala theme “El Toro!” in many ways reflects the organization’s self-confident attitude. This year the party starts at 6 p.m., Saturday, March 10 at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel. The annual event has become one of the Latino community’s largest black-tie affairs and typically attracts more than 1,200 guests.
LAEF scholars represent a diverse group. The 2011 LAEF Sudent of the Year, Sonia Gutierrez, is the first of her family to attend college. A junior at Metro State she is pursuing a degree in broadcast journalism and political science and is a member of Metro State’s Politically Active Students (PAZ) and El Noticiero Metro student news broadcast.
Ramon Montoya, a retired investigator for the State of Colorado, received an LAEF scholarship 40 years ago and graduated from Adams State College in 1969. Later he served as president of LULAC and LAEF and on nonprofit boards including Clínica Tepayac and the Hispanic Annual Salute. The son of farm workers from Las Animas, Montoya has served in the Colorado Army National Guard and Army Reserves. In 2007 he was appointed an Adams State College Trustee and now serves as Special Assistant to the Chairman at National Image, a Hispanic civil rights group.
Artist Emanuel Martinez expresses his gratitude for his scholarship by donating paintings for LAEF’s popular silent auctions. A 1965 Manual High graduate, he opened his studio in 1968 and his paintings, sculptures and murals have been displayed in New York, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago and throughout the Southwest.
LAEF recipient Olivia Mendoza, graduated in 1997 from Drake University and is now director of the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy and Research Organization (CLLARO) formed late last year by the merger of the Latin American Research and Service Agency (LARASA) and the Colorado Latino Forum.
With help from LAEF, Denver attorney Anita Springsteen graduated from the University of Denver with a degree in International Studies and later a law degree from CU-Boulder. In 2004 she launched Springsteen Law focusing on family law and general practice, and hopes to apply her skills in international business in coming years.
“As a child, I was always concerned with things being ‘fair’,” explains Springsteen, whose Mom’s maiden name is Lopez.
“Both my mother and I went to West High School and grew up in west Denver, so we’ve been living in the Denver Latino community for a long time,” she says. “I wanted to be a pioneer in representing Hispanics in the Bar, especially Hispanic women, of which there are so few. And, I wanted to challenge myself.”
Karen Ast says she was “honored to have received this scholarship because it’s awarded to students who succeed academically and are also involved in their college and local community.”
A 2006 LAEF recipient, Ast helps students transition from high school to college as an Enrollment Counselor at Western State College in Gunnison. A Monte Vista native, she chose to stay close to friends in family in the San Luis Valley after graduating with a Business Administration degree from of Western State in 2009. Although she never met her grandmother — Mary Cecilia Herrera –– she feels close to her Latino heritage and helps at-risk Latino students and native Spanish-speakers to read and speak English.
According to Student of the Year Gutierrez, “Every generation has to find the capacity to respond to the challenges of its day. Let us remember those who struggled against barriers to give us more opportunities.”
This year’s headline entertainment features SoulX, a 16-piece high-energy dance band and Los Angles comedian Lisa Alvarado. For information call 303-446-0541.