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By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
As originally published by Texas Border Business newsprint edition July 2017
The DHR Conference Center became the epicenter of scholarship awards. Parents and families of 85 deserving students witnessed how their loved ones received a gift for higher education. I said ‘gift,’ but the students earned it, by demonstrating that they are passionate about their education and future. VAMOS, the acronym for Valley Alliance of Mentors for Opportunities and Scholarships, awarded more than one million dollars in four-year renewable scholarships during their 21st Banquet Celebration.
Dads and Moms, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters of the students were happily celebrating. A total of 1,800 applications submitted by students requesting scholarships made the task more difficult. The board in charge worked diligently to select a few of the best. Not an easy task, because all of them were outstanding. The 85 selected were above outstanding.
June 20, 2017, became the most special evening. “Everything we do all year long at VAMOS culminates tonight,” Johnny Oliva said. Oliva is now the newly elected president of the VAMOS board. “So many people worked so hard for the last 21 years to make these dreams come true,” he said.
That night, Sonia Falcon was recognized for the service and leadership she provided to the organization. Falcon has served 12 years as VAMOS president.
Oliva said, “You don’t get to 21 years in any organization without top-notch leadership.” In his case, he said, “Now as president, I have massive shoes to fill as we continue our journey at VAMOS.”
Falcon received presents as a token of appreciation for her dedication and time given to the organization. The non-profit organization helps deserving students achieve higher education status. Falcon is an important person for the leadership of the organization for more than twenty years.
Daisy Martinez director of VAMOS said, “I am fortunate enough to know her as one my bosses, and she is a close mentor of mine.” She continued, “Thank you so much for all the daily aspirations, all the advice, and for always pushing me to succeed and hopefully one day I find myself to be in your shoes, Ms. Falcon.”
As the ceremony continued, Irma Gomez, an elementary school principal stepped to the podium and together with a committee of volunteers reviewed the 1,800 applications. They also were recognized for doing such a great job of selection of students to be awarded. Gomez has also invested more than twelve years with VAMOS as a volunteer.
Gomez had a message for the students, “I do want to add that above everything that you do, please stay humble. I want you to stay honest and be true to yourselves.”
Anna Garces, a project coordinator at VAMOS, presented Nereida Lopez-Singleterry, the keynote speaker for the night. “Today, she is the assistant judge of Title 4-D courts in Hidalgo County.”
“She is one of many successful alumni that the organization has had. She was one of the first 13 who received a scholarship in 1997. Because of this, Lopez-Singleterry represents the success of the VAMOS program as well as demonstrating to the community that Hispanics in the RGV are smart and capable to be successful,” said Garces.
Lopez-Singleterry said, “I graduated 1997 from La Joya High School, and I know you worked hard. Most of all that you are here today tells us that you are goal-oriented, that you’re hard-working, and that you’re going to succeed in life.”
She said that she worked hard during high school and was involved in everything, graduating 8th in her class. “As the senior year approached, I realized, “Yeah, I want to go to college. I have the grades. I have everything, but what about the money?”
Lopez-Singleterry told the students that she got accepted to almost every university in Texas that she applied to, and then that’s when reality hit, and she asked herself, “How am I going to make it?”
She said that she was blessed to receive the VAMOS scholarship. She added, “They were able to make my dream become a reality. Because of VAMOS, I went to college, and they paid for the four years, which included summers.”
As she was talking from the podium, families listened carefully to what she was saying. Maybe some of the students were asking themselves, “I could be there at the podium in a few years down the road.”
Lopez-Singleterry said she had a lot to thank VAMOS for. She recognized that it is a great organization. With the help of VAMOS, she graduated from UTPA with a bachelor’s in Interdisciplinary Studies. After that, she worked at La Joya ISD and Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD, but, one of her dreams was to go to law school.
She remembers multiple obstacles throughout the way, but when she applied, she got accepted to Michigan State Law School. “I moved to Michigan and got my doctoral degree,” she said.
She moved back to the Valley and started her practice where she worked about five years. In the Valley, she was selected to be the master court judge.
Lopez-Singleterry said that her parents came to this country a few years back. Both only had a 3rd-grade education and were migrant workers. “My dad worked in the fields every day, and in the summer, we migrated to Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina. We picked apples, oranges, and everything in between.”
For her going to school and achieving her dreams was a dream. “I’m telling you about my story because I want for you to realize that you are in the same position that I was 20 years ago. You’re no different from me. Nothing has changed,” she said.
During that time, she had dreams, had goals but one thing she knew well, it was the love of her parents. “My parents instilled in me the importance of dedication and working hard. However, they were not able to guide me when it came to education. And that’s where VAMOS stepped in. I had mentors. I had Rubi, my mentor, and she fought for me, she helped me with whatever I needed.”
At that time, she says that there was a group of thirteen students awarded. In her case, every time she had a chance to visit the Valley she would go to Alonzo Cantu’s office looking for Rubi, her mentor. She recognizes Cantu as someone that has helped the communities.
“I want to tell the scholars here today not to be afraid of failure and don’t ever settle. You’re going to have obstacles, because there is no clear path to getting to your goals. But if you have that goal in mind and work hard you’re going to make it; you’re going to get there,” she said.
The board members got a special recognition for their hard work and dedication. “Honestly, they’re the true champions of the organization because they’re the ones that have made this VAMOS run from 1996 to today,” Martinez stated.
“Thank you so much, board, because without you all these students and these families and all 300 of the students would not be here today. So, thank you again,” Martinez finalized. Since its inception, VAMOS has awarded more than ten million dollars in scholarships.
All photos by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez, Publisher of Texas Border Business and Mega Doctor News.