$125,000 in scholarships announced for Inland Empire Latino students – Press Enterprise

By Greg Archer | Contributing Columnist

Investing in the next generation of college students has become more vibrant.

The Cultivating Inland Empire Latino Opportunity Fund (CIELO Fund) is awarding $125,000 in scholarships to 83 Latino students throughout the Inland Empire. The action is part of an effort through the inaugural CIELO Fund Scholars Program.

“The CIELO Fund leadership committee decided to directly invest in the next generation of Latino leaders and students through the CIELO Fund Scholars Program, which was created to tackle some concerning statistics head on,” said Jesse Melgar, an Inland Empire Community Foundation board member and the CIELO Fund’s founding chair.

“We found that Latinos make up 52% of the region’s population, but only one in 10 Latinos have a bachelor’s degree or higher,” he added. “So, there’s a clear gap in educational attainment that needed to be addressed head-on if we’re going to be serious about a community that comprises a majority of the region and that needs some investment to succeed. When we invest in the Latino community, that ultimately benefits the region as a whole.”

Funding for the inaugural round of CIELO Fund Scholars became possible with support from the S.L. Gimbel Foundation and SoCal Gas’ ¡GENTE! Latino Employee Committee.

Launched during Latino Heritage Month in 2022 as a signature fund of the foundation, the mission stood out: To uplift and invest in the region’s Latino community. Thus far, The CIELO Fund has awarded $280,000 in grants to 25 Latino-led and Latino-serving organizations across Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Scholarship recipients attend or will attend a variety of regional colleges and universities in fall, including UC Riverside, San Bernardino Valley College and College of the Desert.

“We are prioritizing local students attending local colleges and universities,” Melgar said. “About 95% of our scholarship recipients are attending colleges and universities here in the Inland Empire, whether they’re community college students, Cal State San Bernardino students, UCR or Cal Baptist students. We’re really proud to be investing locally so that we can continue uplifting students in the region.”

Another interesting component of the fund revolves around narrative change. To that end, the CIELO Fund works with different outlets across the region, like KVCR, The Desert Sun and the Southern California News Group to uplift Latino voices in a positive light and share inspiring, positive experiences and realities of the community.

Overall, organizers said the CIELO Fund is a noteworthy achievement that has accomplished much in one year — its first anniversary falls on Sept. 16. In less than a year, the organization has been able to raise significant dollars and push them directly to students.

“I’m really proud of the speed with which we’ve been able to start up this scholarship program and get checks into these students’ or universities’ hands before the fall semester begins,” Melgar said.

There are other milestones afoot. In addition to the inspiring stories the group receives from applicants, there is the understanding that an overwhelming majority of scholarship recipients will become the first in their families to graduate from college.

“An important outcome of the scholarship effort is that we are investing in first-generation college students who are breaking barriers for their own families, for themselves, and for the Inland Empire community as a whole,” Melgar points out. “Many of us on the leadership and grant-making committee of the CIELO Fund are first in our family to go to college. So, being able to take educational opportunities we’ve had and create this fund and a scholarship program, and pay that forward is important to us.”

“We’re hoping to create a system where students who graduate will now be able to pay it forward themselves when they start their careers, and when they look to give back to the communities they’ve come from,” he said.

For information about the CIELO Fund, see iegives.org/funds/cielofund/

Inland Empire Community Foundation works to strengthen Inland Southern California through philanthropy.

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