The 2016 LUCES Annual Gala Event Scholarship Banquet at the Concourse Hotel on July 15 was a chance to show the community how much Latinos United for College Education Scholarships (LUCES) has grown in just 11 years. Ten scholarships of $750 were presented to talented young Latino students in the Madison area.

“We want to make sure that with the increases in tuition that we are seeing that our students don’t drop out. We want to make sure that they can pursue their dreams and we want to help them as much as we can,” LUCES founder and President Pedro Albiter tells Madison365.

“We have been working very hard to help young people to go to college,” he adds. “The program is getting bigger, we are growing. We’re now in our 11th year and I’m very satisfied with the work that we have accomplished and the work our board of directors has done.”

In September of 2005, Albiter started a small group called Club Mexiquense and worked with small issues involving the Latino community in the South Central Wisconsin. In 2011, Albiter applied for federal nonprofit status and changed the name to Latinos United for College Education Scholarships, or LUCES.

LUCES scholarship winners take a selfie.
LUCES scholarship winners take a selfie.

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 event was a chance to honor the 2016 honorees: Veronica Gonzalez, Alondra Vasquez, Maricela Tellez-Giron, Gilberto Osuna, Lupe Salmeron, Rocio Rivas, Estefany Armenta, Ana Rodriguez, Juan Ocampo, and Anahi Gallegos.

This year, LUCES increased the scholarships awarded to students from 7 to 10.

“The board of directors worked very hard to get funds for the scholarships and to make sure the event was a success,” Albiter says. “Many of the students will be going to Madison College, some to UW-Madison, and one will going to Edgewood College.”

Albiter says that he is very excited about the LUCES Mentoring Scholars Program that they started last year where “Rising Stars” are mentored by a successful and well-established professionals from the Madison area. The mentor helps the Rising Star with networking, community connections, decision making, career exploration, recommendations, and overall support during their professional career journey.

“We have great mentors in our mentorship program like Fabiola Hamdan and we work to match a scholarship winner with a mentor,” Albiter says.

LUCES Rising Stars research shows that underrepresented students are less likely to attend college or continue their higher education goals due to the lack of communication from both colleges and high schools, particularly for Latino students. The probability of a Latino student entering institution of higher education almost doubles if the individual has a person who is providing them with information and teaching them how to navigate institutions of higher education.

(L-r) Ruben Barahona, Kevin Foley, Sayra Jayo, Renee Moe, and Pedro Albiter
(L-r) Ruben Barahona, Kevin Foley, Sayra Jayo, Renee Moe, and Pedro Albiter

Many of those LUCES Rising Star mentors were present at the Gala that saw LUCES present Emily Auerbach, a professor of English and the director of the life-changing UW Odyssey Project, with the Educator of the Year award. This is the third year LUCES has presented this award at their banquet. Auerbach was nominated by Marisela Tellez-Giron.

The keynote speaker for the event was former UW regent Jesus Salas, an advocate and leader in recognizing the importance of higher education who worked to secure a better standing for the Latino and Chicano communities in Wisconsin. A noted pioneer in the fight for civil rights, Salas participated in a series of landmark actions in the 1960s and together with Father Groppi, he helped organize the Welfare Rights March in downtown Milwaukee and was a leader in the landmark march from Milwaukee to the state Capitol building in Madison.

United Way CEO Renee Moe gave the welcome at the event and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi was a special guest. Golpe Tierra, a musical ensemble that promotes Afro-Peruvian music in Madison, performed along with Tania Tandias Flamenco & Spanish Dance Company. “We had people dancing until pretty late – 11 or 11:30 – so they were really enjoying the music,” Albiter says. “It was a great program … a memorable night.

“We definitely have formed a LUCES ‘familia’ over the years and that family just keeps getting bigger and bigger. I’m really excited for the students,” Albiter says. “They have great futures ahead of them and I’m thankful to all of the businesses and agencies that sponsored our event and contributed towards the scholarships. They are really investing in the future of our community.”