Friday, June 21, 2024

San Miguel scholarships give low-income students the chance to attend college

It started with a pair of shoes. A boy in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, had received a university scholarship but had no shoes to wear to his classes. So Helen Morris stepped in to help. She bought him the shoes he needed, and the two became close.

With Morris’ support, that boy eventually got a Fulbright Scholarship through Southern Methodist University, where he earned an MBA.

His success inspired Morris and her friends to found Jóvenes Adelante (JA), a scholarship program for low-income students in San Miguel de Allende. Today, more than 200 students have graduated through the program.

Jóvenes Adelante supports students for up to five years, including paying for professional certifications after graduation. In addition to a commitment of 25,000 pesos (US $1,255) per year, students are connected with a mentor, receive a laptop and have access to free counselors for psychological and pedagogical support, English tutors and workshops on professional skills. All this makes it “the most robust and multifaceted scholarship that we are aware of in Mexico,” said Jóvenes Adelante president Don Krim.

After the program, graduates continue to network with other JA alumni and share professional opportunities.

Recipients engage in a bonding exercise during a group meeting designed to foster connections and make students feel part of a community.

“We do not just write a check. We are with the student as a family every step of the way for the full length of their university career,” Krim said. “So long as our students demonstrate a consistent academic performance and drive, we have their backs for five years.”

One graduate, Carla Cadena, was the first in her family to go to college. Now she is the administrative director of a hospice care organization and a project manager for the local Rotary Club.

“It was a totally new scene. I did not have cousins or any family members who could help me get oriented,” Cadena said. “My mentor was a great help to me. She was with me throughout my 4 1/2 years of college … she listened to me and gave advice. It’s good to know someone is listening to what is happening in your life — in academic matters but also for personal and professional issues.”

Having a laptop for her schoolwork was also extremely useful, she added.

Students in the program must achieve a level of English appropriate to their field of study. For some, Krim said, that means conversation partners to help them reach an intermediate level. For others, it involves serious study for the TOEFL English proficiency test with a tutor provided free of charge by JA.

Students are not accepted into the program until a sponsor has committed to support them financially throughout their studies. Each student is assigned a mentor, whom they see at least once a month. The program currently has 105 active students and 96 volunteer mentors, Krim said.

Group of Jóvenes Adelante recipients.
A group of Jóvenes Adelante recipients.

“We try to pair the student with a mentor who has a professional background in the student’s specific field of study … these mentors become the primary, but not exclusive, emotional support to the student,” Krim said, adding that many graduates return to the program as mentors.

High grades are just the start for students seeking the scholarship. They must demonstrate “the seeds of initiative, independence, commitment to learning and continuing education and social and leadership potential that lead to success in the workplace,” Krim said.

The program has an 85% college graduation rate, more than triple the 26% rate for San Miguel de Allende students in general. Krim attributes their success to the multilevel support that the program provides.

Cadena says she’ll always be grateful that Jóvenes Adelante exists.

“They have changed the lives of many students in San Miguel de Allende, including mine,” she said. “The organization always receives you with warmth and a smile. They have created a big family. They give us their confidence, love, attention — and at the same time cultivate values and support us to be more responsible and professional.”

• Jóvenes Adelante relies on an international base of donors in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Mexico. Their 2021 sponsorship commitment is US $1,800 per year for five years. They provide tax-deductible receipts for Canadian, U.S. and Mexican donors. To find out more, visit their website.

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