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‘Welcome back, guys!’ Latino leaders cheer on returning students


When Union High School students arrived bright and early for their first day of classes Tuesday, Aug. 20, they were greeted at the school doors by more than a dozen exuberant Latino community leaders.

“Welcome back guys!” shouted the greeters, offering fist-bumps and applause as students walked through their V-shaped reception line. “Have a great year! Do well!”

Senior Genry Rafael Tercero makes a dramatic entrance with a fist-bump from Ben Oliver of Challenge Scholars

Ismael Cristen appreciated the first-day boost heading into his senior year. “I wasn’t expecting this,” he said. “It was kind of great.”

Ismael is one of the GRPS Challenge Scholars, a program of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation offering full-tuition college scholarships to Union High grads who meet academic and attendance requirements. Program leaders organized the welcome-back, inviting members of the Latino and Latina Networks of West Michigan since Union has a large Latino population, said Ben Oliver, Challenge Scholars program officer.  

“As our first graduating class enters their senior year, it is important for them to see that there is a whole community out here of people who care about their success,” Oliver said, “but who also share similar backgrounds and experiences, and have their own stories, successes and challenges they have overcome, including the critical role that education has played in their journeys.”

Maximiliano Velasco, a family coach who attended Union, said he was happy to welcome the students. “It makes me feel great that I was here before, I knew the support I was getting, and now I want to give that back.”

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers Rockford and Grand Rapids. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.

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