Association of Latin American Students helps Dreamers stay in school
Kansas City barbecue is good for so many things – besides being a favorite pastime for locals and attracting visitors from across the country to experience what real barbecue tastes like. For University of Missouri-Kansas City juniors Maria Franco (mechanical engineering major with a minor in mathematics) and Bryan Betancourt (finance and management major), a simple invite to a barbecue led to a huge opportunity for their student organization, Association of Latin American Students, to help Latinx students stay in school.
ALAS recently participated in a Hispanic Development Fund fundraising campaign and competition that resulted in the student organization raising nearly $9,000 in matching scholarship dollars for Latinx first-generation and DACA students. The group competed against three other universities – Rockhurst University, University of Kansas and Kansas State University – to see who could raise the most money; the winner received a matching gift from the HDF. ALAS outdid their competition by raising $4,400.
Franco, ALAS president, said they dedicated the entire month of September, Hispanic Heritage Month, to hosting off-campus fundraisers for the competition. However, according to ALAS treasurer, Betancourt, the majority of their success was a result of direct donations from community members, professors, peers and the students’ individual networks.
“We went out and talked to people, told them we were raising money and why,” said Franco, adding that networking and connecting with the community is important to ALAS. The organization has an underlying goal of increasing the Latinx student population at UMKC.
As another fundraising – and low-key recruitment – strategy, ALAS students designed Latinx-inspired button pins for high school students as a way to show them that not only do Latinx students go to college, there are ways to pay it and that “UMKC is the best.”
“The Chancellor had my same idea of using ‘La familia’ because that was going to be one our buttons,” she said, adding that the Spanish phrase often used by Chancellor C. Mauli Agrawal, in reference to UMKC’s campus community, immediately resonated with her. In fact, Franco said that makes them “best friends now.”
The money ALAS raised for scholarships will go back to help DACA students at UMKC pay for school. Area high schools participated in their own division of the competition, as well as local businesses and organizations.
Alta Vista High School, a Guadalupe Center charter school, won the high school division of the competition and those scholarship dollars go toward seniors. The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers won first place in the professional division and those scholarship funds go toward high school and college students.
Betancourt said this opportunity especially means a lot to him because “it’s supporting our Hispanic community, which doesn’t have a lot of the opportunities that others have.”
Both Franco and Betancourt are first-generation college students and have had personal experiences with the challenges that come with paying for college.
“For most DACA students, this means they’re able to stay in school,” said Franco, who proudly proclaims her DACA status despite its accompanying challenges. “With the way politics work, DACA students have to pay international tuition, so every bit helps.”
Betancourt and Franco encourage their peers to save the date for January 1 when the HDF starts accepting scholarship applications. In the meantime, prospective and current students can visit the UMKC Financial Aid website for more scholarship and grant opportunities.
Over the past three decades, the Hispanic Development Fund has awarded more than $4.5 million in scholarships to more than 3,000 prospective college students. Their mission is to improve the quality of life of Latino families in Greater Kansas City by engaging the Latino community in philanthropy to build stronger communities through grant making and scholarship support.