Shirley Acevedo Buontempo, Founder and Executive Director of Latino U College Access with Kevin Tejada, “College Bound Scholars” award recipient. (Courtesy/ Latino U College Access)

In a wealthy NY county, making first-generation students college ready

Though the first year of college can be exciting for so many entering their freshman year, it can also be scary for those first-generation students who do not have a family member or mentor to guide them through this new experience.

“My dream is that we create an organization that provides equal resources and access to first-generation Latino youth so that they can make their college dreams a reality,” says Shirley Acevedo Buontempo, Founder and Executive Director of Latino U College Access.  She herself moved to the U.S. from Puerto Rico when she was 10 and did not speak English, but became the first in her family to graduate from college and later obtain a graduate degree. While helping her daughter go through the college application process, she realized it was not easy.

So she founded Latino U College Access, a non-profit located in Westchester County, New York, a fairly affluent area not far from New York City.  The program  was created in an effort to provide first-generation students, specifically Latinos, with the tools and guidance they need to navigate the college application process.

Most recently, the organization launched its newest program, “College Bound Scholars,” where two students were selected to receive a mentor for their freshman year and a $1,000 scholarship for dorm and school supplies.  Angela Leis will be attending SUNY New Paltz, and Kevin Tejada will be attending Bates College in the fall.

Tejada was the first to participate in Latino U’s  college coaching program. He received help applying for college and filling out the financial aid application. He is going to Bates on a full scholarship.

Once in college, the two incoming freshmen will be mentored by Amy Peck, the creator of the College Bound Scholars program, and Doreen Gadigan, a Latino U College Access volunteer and special education teacher. The two women will keep in touch with the students constantly and guide them on topics such as handling finances, getting along with a roommate and other challenges first-year students encounter.

Latino U College Access holds bilingual FAFSA (financial aid application) workshops for parents, as well as intensive SAT/ACT preparation workshops for students. Every student interested in receiving aid from the organization is welcome to attend the workshops and is given a coach who guides them through the application process.

The program launched last year and has already made partnerships with five school districts. The schools provide awareness of the program to students who might be interested in attending Latino U events.

“As a new organization, we are privately funded by individuals and we are looking for donors that want to support our efforts and we are looking for Latino professionals who would like to serve on our board and be mentors,” says Acevedo.

“The Latino community recognizes how important an education is, we are working to establish programs in other communities,” says Acevedo.

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