Almost 300 people came out to honor 10 outstanding young scholars at the annual LUCES Gala on Friday, July 20, at the Madison Concourse Hotel and Governor’s Club as Latinos United for College Education Scholarships, Inc. (LUCES) celebrated their 13th year of making a difference in the lives of young, Madison-area Latino students.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this evening we are recognizing the successes and the academic achievements of 10 amazing Latino students,” LUCES President and founder Pedro Albiter told the crowd. “Congratulations to all of the students – muchas felicidades a todos. I think that as an educator, we know all of the sacrifices they have made. So congratulations, jovenes.”

The LUCES Scholarship recognizes outstanding Latino high school students in their senior year and college students or adult returning students that have completed their GED/HSED who have shown previous involvement in volunteer/leadership or community activities. The LUCES Annual Gala was a chance to honor the 2018 LUCES Scholarship honorees that included Brikny Esmerelda Ayala, Jennifer Celaya, Andrea Dominguez Ruiz, Erika Esparza, Nancy Jessenia Gomez, Simara Santana, Diana Santiago Martinez, Evelyn Mendoza Nunez, Jahdai Guerrero and Guadalupe Jose Zarate. Omar Rodriguez, associate principal of Middleton High School, presented the students with their awards.

“Each of these students has a unique story. A story of struggle, but also a story of hope, motivation and success,” Albiter told the crowd. “They will be the future Latino professionals in our community – from immigration attorneys to business managers to business owners, and many other professions.

Enoch Melgarejo Hernández, a pre-GED instructor at the Latino Academy of Workforce Development, was awarded the 2018 LUCES Educator of the Year. David Villa, the Chief Investment Officer and the Chairman of the Investment Committee for the State of Wisconsin Investment Board (SWIB), was the keynote speaker at the event.

LUCES had very humble beginnings. In September of 2005, Albiter started a small group called Club Mexiquense and worked with small issues involving the Latino community in South Central Wisconsin. In 2011, Albiter applied for federal nonprofit status and changed the name to Latinos United for College Education Scholarships, or LUCES. The LUCES program has continued to grow every year, as well as the number of scholarships and the amount of money they are able to award scholars.

Sal Carranza (left) presents LUCES president and founder Pedro Albiter with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

“We started as a small group with one scholarship and we have really grown,” Albiter tells Madison365. “We went to 6, 7, and now we’re at 10 scholarships of $1,000 a piece. We’re working very closely with Edgewood College and Madison College to make sure our Latino students have better access to college and more opportunities to help pay for college. We’ve had great growth over the years thanks to the generosity of this community.”

At the event, Sal Carranza presented Albiter with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his 13 years of leadership at LUCES. “It was an amazing moment for me,” Albiter says. “It was very touching. I was very emotional.”

Albiter took the opportunity to make a very special announcement at the event: He was stepping down as the president of LUCES. “The reason that I am stepping down as president of LUCES is to dedicate more time to my daughter and family after volunteering hundreds of hours, so now it is time for my family,” Albiter says. “It’s a hard thing to do, but it is time. After 13 years of all the hard work and volunteering all of the hours, there have been so many great stories of the scholarship winners and I’ve met so many great people.”

Albiter will officially step down at the end of the year.

“Our LUCES board is very excited and we are looking forward to many more years for LUCES and to continue to help more students have access to college and graduate from college,” Albiter says.