With college tuition constantly on the rise, the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Foundation is doing its part to help deserving Hispanic students throughout the Valley pay for their educations.
The foundation is a nonprofit organization whose main goal is to provide scholarships to Hispanic students attending Arizona post-secondary schools. The foundation also supports philanthropic efforts within the Latino community.
“As chairman of the board for the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (AZHCC), one of the accomplishments that I am most proud of is the establishment of a scholarship program,” says Robert Espiritu, who works in acquisition marketing for American Express’ International Business Unit.
Espiritu developed the scholarship initiative in 2008, during the 50th anniversary of the chamber’s Black and White Business Awards Ball — the longest-running black-tie event in Phoenix.
In order to commemorate the anniversary, Espiritu developed the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Foundation Scholarship Program, which now has grown into a permanent component of the awards.
Espiritu also decided on an unconventional way to raise money for the scholarships.
“The idea I had was to ask the audience for pledges for scholarships,” Espiritu says.
The donations began with companies who had pre-committed to donating money and continued from there. “It was kind of spontaneous; I just wanted to ask people if they wanted to join the donation …” Espiritu says.Soon, “call-outs” were made from attendees pledging various amounts to the scholarship fund. Those who pledged then came on stage and stated their pledge amounts.
The 2008 event turned out to be a huge success. Donors big and small, from individuals to corporations, banded together to raise nearly $110,000.
“The generosity on the part of our corporate citizens and individuals has been amazing and gives me great faith that even with this down economy we still have the support from our community,” Espiritu says.
Despite the difficult economic climate, an additional $35,000 was raised in 2009. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, Qwest Communications, Humana, Wells Fargo, APS and SRP were some of the larger corporations to contribute at this year’s ball.
“To date, the AZHCC Foundation has raised approximately $140,000 in scholarships for deserving and aspiring Latino students,” Espiritu says. “I want to personally thank all of our donors for their contributions. Without them, all of this would not be possible.”
On May 19 of this year, 60 Latino students were presented with the scholarships at a private dinner at the Wrigley Mansion. Scholarship recipients ranged from first-generation college students to graduate students.
“To be awarded such esteemed honors means that my hard work paid off. But I still have so much more to do to prove that I am worthy of such recognitions,” says Annalili Chacon, a recipient of the scholarship and a Barack Obama Scholar at Arizona State University.
Cosme Madrid, a student at ASU, also received a scholarship.
“I wanted to apply for this scholarship simply because it applied to who I was. … I learned that the chamber of commerce supports Hispanics to get a higher education and so I went for it,” he says.
Madrid adds that being selected a winner “is a great feeling because it shows the hard work that I have done throughout my high school career to get to where I am and to receive this scholarship.”
Both recipients are grateful for the financial relief the scholarships provide and are better prepared for the road ahead.
“It is so important for us to reach out and help future generations of students, and for the Hispanic chamber especially to be able to assist our Latino students,” Espiritu says. “These students will become our future leaders and the goal of AZHCC’s scholarship program is to help facilitate the development of our future leaders through education.”