The scholarship program delivers 96% rate graduation
By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
As originally published in Texas Border Business newsprint edition October 2018
What a grand celebration, The Valley Alliance of Mentors for Opportunities and Scholarships (VAMOS), celebrated its 22nd annual celebration. On July 16th, 2018, 85 students were awarded a total of $1.4 million for the four-year renewable scholarships. The scholars were selected from Starr, Cameron and Hidalgo Counties to attend the university of their choice. Some of those students will be attending top-notch universities such as UTRGV and Dartmouth University. VAMOS recipients are attending any university from Texas or the United States.
For students to join the VAMOS train is simple. Typically, VAMOS awards $10-20,000 scholarships and the application opens December 1st and closes on April 1st of every year. The second phase is done by the scholarship committee that goes through thousands of applications and selects the students that they find are well deserving of the VAMOS scholarship. The third phase is to pair scholars with a mentor specifically within their major. That explains the reason why VAMOS graduation rate is at 96%.
The program is simple, and this is how it works: VAMOS provides funds for a four-year college degree. If the student is the recipient for $20,000, that means they will get $5,000 per year. However, there is a requirement, aside from students delivering a minimum of 2.75 GPA, they also need to give back to their communities. Recipients provide a minimum of 40 hours of community service per year as a requirement and to keep in good standing with the program. VAMOS board stresses that giving back to the community is paramount to the success of the program and the student.
According to Sonia Falcon, former VAMOS president for twelve years, once they graduate, VAMOS scholars come back to the Valley to open up businesses such as Dr. Melissa Uriegas, a 2005 VAMOS scholar, who operates her practice, Uriegas Dentistry. Thanks to VAMOS and Dr. Uriegas, who kept her end of the bargain, she got the necessary funds to get her education.
On August 10, 2018, this reporter attended the open house and ribbon cutting ceremony of Uriegas Dentistry. At this event, I spoke to Daisy Martinez, the executive director of VAMOS. She was excited to see Melissa Uriegas celebrating such an essential function of her professional career.
“I came on board in 2016, and so we received a phone call, and it was from Melissa saying, “Hey, I was a VAMOS scholar, and I’d like to give back,” Daisy told Texas Border Business. “Dr. Uriegas regularly attends to VAMOS events and in some occasions has been a guest speaker of our holiday party, and it’s great to see her giving back to the community,” Daisy said.
Johnny Oliva is the VAMOS president; he is considered another mover and shaker of this community. He works along with 13 hard-working board members; one of them is Alonzo Cantu. He is one of the principal founders of this great organization that is helping young people to get educated. Daisy said that this is the hardest working board that she has ever had the privilege to collaborate with.
“They strive year-round to find donors and to find sponsors to give back to VAMOS.” She said, “We’re grateful of our sponsors, and that is why we’re able to award so much in scholarships.” In past years, VAMOS has awarded a million dollars per year, but this year it was $1.4 million. Daisy said, “the additional $400,000 came from Alonzo Cantu scholarship for the University of Houston.”
The VAMOS 22nd Annual Scholarship Banquet took place at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, 85 students with parents and additional family participated with joy and pride.
VAMOS is now an integral part of the Rio Grande Valley. A large number of students are graduating debt-free, and that’s huge for the families because it’s one less financial burden on them and the students can achieve their dreams by acquiring post-secondary education. According to Daisy, the board’s goal is always to award more money in scholarships and they feel that it is attainable. VAMOS has developed an excellent reputation that even national organization are starting to notice.
Recently the VAMOS organization received the “Hispanic Scholarship Fund Community Partner of the Year” award, this was in April 2018, where the Hispanic Scholarship Fund recognized VAMOS for their hard work.
The hardest part of this program is to be part of the reviewing committee. They are in charge of reading all applications. This year, 1,200 students applied for scholarships, there was only $1.4 million; it was just enough for 85 scholars.
The scholarship committee is comprised of ten to fifteen people that always give up their evenings to read the petitions. Daisy said, “There are tears and smiles as you read applications and get a feel for each one of them.”
VAMOS is a nonprofit organization and relies heavily on donations. One of the annual fundraisers is the golf tournament, which is always a success. VAMOS golf tournament for 2019 is on March 2nd, at the Palm View Golf Course, this event brings most of the funding needed for scholarships.
Since 1997 VAMOS has awarded over $20 million, and they have fundraised close to $25 million. Their priority is making sure that all the funds go towards scholarships, and for the students to receive a post-secondary education. So, keep an eye on VAMOS, if they call for a donation, please have your wallet open. Their idea and vision to get as many young people as possible educated, rocks!