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!”
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.”