For the second year, the Mothers of East L.A. have planted what they hope are seeds of long-term community growth by awarding scholarships to nearly 40 students who share that vision.
In a ceremony last week co-hosted by City Atty. James Hahn, the nonprofit group doled out scholarships that ranged from $300 to $1,000 to high school and college students who demonstrated financial need and, more importantly, a goal of enriching East L.A. and other Latino communities.
"I want to have a pediatrician practice here," said Rosie Vasquez, a Bell Gardens High School graduate who will attend Whittier College as a pre-med student in the fall.
"We need more Latino doctors, particularly women doctors. It's not only a dream for me, it's a dream for my family as well."
Though it puts a premium on giving back, the scholarship program seeks to help all students who apply.
The philosophy behind that is to cast as wide a net as possible among young people who may not get the encouragement they need to put their best faces forward, said Beatriz Mojarro, a member of Mothers of East L.A.
Mothers of East L.A. project director Elsa Lopez said that 39 out of 44 applicants got scholarships this year chiefly because not enough funds were available.
"As long as they have financial need, we try to help them," Lopez said.
"We were lower on donors this year, so we had to be a little more selective with monies. We also had more applications this year, which meant more scholarships."
The group funds its scholarship program through corporate, private and individual donations. Whatever they can give, Mojarro said, is another step forward.
Ten years ago, the group formed as a small grass-roots organization to fight a proposed prison on the Eastside.
Now, Mothers of East L.A. boasts 300 members and covers many more community issues, from environmental concerns to job placement.
In 1992, they began a pilot water conservation program with the Department of Water and Power offering free low-flush toilets to the public. That program, which was subsequently adopted by other community groups, has provided funds for the group's latest effort: the scholarship fund.
It came just in time for scholarship recipient Damian Deveze.
The 19-year-old Schurr High graduate came to Los Angeles from Mexico on his own three years ago and worked a succession of odd jobs--from carpet salesman to gardener--in order to survive.
A friend he was living with in Northern California put him out after a squabble, and Deveze had nowhere to go; at the urging of a relative, he came to live in Monterey Park.
With no knowledge of English, he started out at Schurr in Montebello in English as a second language classes, but progressed quickly enough to convince his counselor to put him in regular courses.
With a 3.82 grade point average in his senior year and admission to UC Santa Barbara, Deveze said all he needed was a financial boost.
"This will help me go to school, to pay for the UCSB orientation program," said Deveze of his $1,000 scholarship.
He said he is planning to major in Spanish and computer science, and eventually wants to work building better relations among Latinos of all nationalities and backgrounds.
"There's a lot of tension, a lot of stereotypes just within the community," he said. "We're not all gang-bangers and baby-makers. I want to promote understanding not just among Mexicans, not one community, but everyone."