Hispanic Heritage Month Pay It Forward Challenge: Recognizing students making a difference (Part 2 of 3)

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept 15 - Oct 15), Google hosted a Pay It Forward Challenge to recognize Latinx/Hispanic student leaders who are advancing opportunities for their local communities. We’re excited to share the work of the students below and hope you’ll be inspired by their stories.

After receiving so may great submissions, we've decided to make this a three-part blog post. ICYMI, be sure to check out Part 1 of this post and stay tuned for Part 3.

Claudia Saavedra
Claudia is a student at Rutgers University-Newark studying Public Affairs and Administration. She was born in Chile and her family immigrated to the United States. She is the youngest of six and is the first in her family to go to college.
As someone coming from poverty, an immigrant, and a first generation high school graduate, she received no guidance when it came to the college process. She did not want anyone to go through the same experience. When Claudia was 17 years old, she founded college access workshops to help low-income and first-generation students through the college process. As a result, every student participant graduated from high school and attended college with scholarships. In an effort to scale her workshops, when she was a freshman in college, she founded FlairNow - an online mentoring website where she mentored over 100 low-income and first-generation students through the college admission process.

Her platform is currently working with Newark Public Schools, and her first partnering school is West Side High School. FlairNow helps Westside high school students navigate the process from the time they are in 9th grade and beginning the college exploration process to the time they graduate. Claudia's goal, "is for every student, no matter their background, to graduate from high school and enroll in a college or trade school."

What inspires Claudia about Hispanic Heritage Month
“Hispanic Heritage Month Inspires me because as an immigrant and Latina, this month honors the sacrifices the Hispanic/Latinx community makes to live up to the "American Dream" in the United States. Regardless of the obstacles encountered, we are still fearless, bold, and hungry to make the world we live in a better place. In short, we make things happen no matter of how much we have.”

Alejandro Chardon
Alejandro was previously a student at the University of Puerto Rico and is currently a senior at the University of Central Florida studying Health Services Administration.
Starting with the "Master Plan for Bicycles" at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, Alejandro helped develop cycling infrastructure from scratch and paint the first bicycle lane in the history of the University of Puerto Rico. From this organization stemmed BiciCoop – the first bicycle shop established in the University of Puerto Rico. With this start-up, Alejandro and his co-founders created part-time jobs for students and promoted the culture of entrepreneurship on campus.

After Hurricane Maria, Alejandro, and hundreds of Puerto Rican students, left the island in search of better opportunities to continue their studies. The University of Central Florida granted them in-state-tuition for one semester. Alejandro quickly got involved with the Puerto Rican Student Association and helped put together a proposal to extend the in-state-tuition waiver for a whole year. As a result, the board of trustees extended the tuition waiver to Spring 2023.

Alejandro’s advice to others
“With time I have realized that the most valuable assets I obtain from any project are the relationships cultivated. The people that you work with become your friends and your supporters, as you become theirs."

Arnold Moctezuma
Arnold Moctezuma is a first-generation Mexican raised in New York City. He currently studies Computer Science and Information Security at John Jay College. 
Working as a peer mentor at LaGuardia Community College with CREAR Futuros – a City University of New York (CUNY) wide program spearheaded by the Hispanic Federation – Arnold helps support college retention and graduation rates for Latinx students. “I share stories of my experiences to inspire and motivate a higher sense of self and value in others.”

“Growing up in NYC as a first-generation Mexican, I didn't always understand who I was and where I belonged.” With the help of the America Needs You Scholarship Program Arnold was able to improve his interview and public speaking skills while getting to know other first-generation fellows, which further motivated him. “I see it as a responsibility to myself and others to continue building the change that I want to see in this world by encouraging others to find for themselves the opportunities that will help them grow.” Reflecting on his accomplishments, Arnold was inspired to start a blog to further document and share information and resources specific to the Hispanic and Latinx communities.

What inspires Arnold about Hispanic Heritage Month
“Identity is important to everyone, regardless of our individual backgrounds. Many people share different cultures through their lineage, complicating their sense of identity. Hispanic Heritage Month, for me, is a way of including and recognizing everyone who identifies as Latinx or Hispanic into a big loving community full of color and life.”

Marcelo López
Marcelo is a senior at Middlebury College studying International and Global Studies with a focus on Latin America. Marcelo also has a minor in American Studies, with a Critical Race Theory focus. He was born and raised in Richmond, California, and when he is not busy studying, he is dancing in one of his college's dance crews – Evolution.
Marcelo established the first Queer and Trans People of Color (QTPOC) affinity group at Middlebury College during his sophomore year. He founded the group after hearing many of his friends express that they felt there were no LGBTQ+ groups/spaces on campus with the majority of members who could relate to their ethnic/cultural backgrounds.

“When I kicked off the QTPOC initiative two years ago, I intended for the space to be one where not just students, but faculty and staff could also engage. That was one of the largest visions I had in my head when establishing the space. After two years, and with Middlebury increasing its diversity efforts, the number of people benefitting from this space has quadrupled. As the founder of this initiative, it brings me peace knowing that this space will live on after my time at Middlebury.”

Marcelo’s advice to others
“In order to effectively inspire change in others, I believe that it is first necessary for one to inspire change within oneself. You, as an individual, have to be the first person to believe in whatever project or movement that you conceive. Once that’s done—well there’s nowhere to go but up.”

Lesly Bohuchot
Lesly is a student at theUniversity of Colorado Boulder in the engineering and applied mathematics department. She is from Houston, Texas and in addition to engineering, she loves to sing and draw.
After coming back from a 2018 Python conference (PyCon), Lesly and another friend revived the Houston PyLadies MeetUp group that had been inactive for over two years. This time, however, they wanted it to be more than just a meet up. Lesly wanted to create an avenue for educational opportunities for young girls and women in general to get into STEM.

“So I took it upon myself, coordinating with a few other wonderful women to not only bring PyLadies back to Houston, but to turn it into an outreach and volunteer program.” They recently held a large event welcoming all women traveling to Houston for the Grace Hopper Celebration and are actively coordinating with schools and other programs to grow their impact. “I want the Houston PyLadies to stand on its own and grow to one be one of the biggest chapters in the country.”

Lesly’s advice to others
“Every person matters. No matter how small we think our impact is, it can be huge to a single person. That is the most important thought to keep in mind. Do not be discouraged. Focus on the people that will benefit and be helped.”

Ryan and Dani DaCosta
Ryan and Dani DaCosta are a brother-sister duo behind "AYUDA! Tutoring" at their high school. Ryan is now a freshman in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan while Dani is a sophomore at Suffern High School in their hometown of Suffern, New York.
As a junior in high school, Ryan created the program, AYUDA! Tutoring – a free tutoring service targeting the large population of Latinx/Hispanic immigrants in Suffern. Ryan explains, “Many students move to the United States and struggle to adjust to classes taught mostly in English and they have limited resources to seek out extra help.” Dani currently serves as a facilitator of AYUDA! Tutoring and is responsible for coordinating and recruiting new tutors. She ensures all involved students have someone to assist them with homework, test prep, language practice, or anything else they may want. The group of tutors offer academic support as well as communication skills to English Language Learner classmates.

In college, Ryan has become involved with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the Michigan Community Scholars Program – a living-learning community dedicated to social justice and community service. Dani is still managing AYUDA! Tutoring while balancing schoolwork and playing field hockey, basketball and lacrosse throughout the school year.

Ryan and Dani’s advice to others
“To anyone looking to start a community service initiative, start small and use any resource you have. It may take a while to scale down a larger goal and find your first step, but that leads to your second and so on.”

Luis Gasca
Luis Gasca is a sophomore at Rutgers University – New Brunswick studying Environmental Business and Economics. Luis was born in the small city of Popayan, Colombia and grew up in Trenton, New Jersey. 
Throughout high school Luis was involved in Mill Hill P.E.E.R.S – a non-profit youth development program that focused on encouraging responsible strategies throughout Trenton by presenting skits to the community on bullying, dating violence, drug awareness, and much more. 

Once in college, Luis was elected to serve as President for C.O.S.I.N.E – an organization that advocates academic excellence amongst underrepresented students and engages in community service. C.O.S.I.N.E creates a safe space where individuals can seek resources, connections, and find networking opportunities. 

What inspires Luis about Hispanic Heritage Month
“Hispanic Heritage Month is a month that brings enlightenment to my spirit. It is a month full of joy, tradition, smiles, and good times. I enjoy the events that are usually put on this month because they unify the community and allow everyone to connect, bond, and really build on each individual's sense of culture.”

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