March 20, 2019

LALDEF FUTURO Mentoring Program Receives $75,000 Grant for Women, Girls

COLLEGE-BOUND: Students in the Princeton High School cohort of LALDEF’s FUTURO program visited The College of New Jersey as part of their preparation for the college application and admission process. The FUTURO mentoring program recently received a $75,000 multi-year grant from the Princeton Area Community Foundation.  (Photo courtesy of LALDEF)

By Donald Gilpin

The Princeton Area Community Foundation’s (PACF) Fund for Women and Girls will provide the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF) with $75,000 to sustain and expand its FUTURO Mentoring Program over the next three years.

“With the help of the Princeton Area Community Foundation, the women and girls of our FUTURO program will receive the empowerment necessary to graduate high school, matriculate into a four-year institution, and become leaders in society,” said LALDEF Executive Director Adriana Abizadeh.

In a week full of news about unfair advantages for wealthy college applicants and the multifarious means used by some rich parents to buy access to colleges and universities, last week’s announcement from LALDEF was welcomed by FUTURO Program Manager Tulia Jiminez-Vergara. “What we do is important because many of our young people are immigrants or children of immigrants, many of whom have never attended college,” she said.

She continued, “Through our efforts, they have been able to aspire to higher academic and professional goals that they may never have imagined without our help and encouragement. We show them the

possibilities and give them the opportunity to go further than their parents have been able to.”

FUTURO mentors high school juniors and seniors, and follows them through college. College application guidance, SAT preparation, tutoring, community service opportunities, and financial literacy workshops provided by FUTURO all help the students to be better equipped to enter higher education.

Jiminez-Vergara reported that all of the 15 high school seniors she is currently working with have received acceptance letters from prestigious universities. Since its inception in 2009,  FUTURO has enrolled more than 65 students, who have collectively received more than $600,000 in scholarships. Students graduating from high school in 2019 will obtain at least another $400,000 in scholarship funds. 

“We will achieve a 100 percent high school graduation rate and have historically had 92 percent of our students matriculating in college in the fall directly following their school graduation,” Jimenez-Vergara noted. ”We have a broad network of alumni who have graduated from college and who are currently employed in any number of fields from nonprofits to accounting firms to banks, the armed services, and the government.”

FUTURO Coordinator Liliana Morenilla oversees FUTURO’s first Princeton cohort, a group of 14 Princeton High School juniors. She described the diverse group — from Mexico, Guatemala, Ghana, Cameroon, Taiwan, and China — as “fantastic kids — very engaged. They work very, very hard, and their parents are very supportive.”

She added, “For all of them to be in college in two years — that’s my dream and my white hair.” Morenilla pointed out that expectations are very high for juniors at PHS, with SAT tests, lots of homework, numerous AP courses, and high competition over GPAs. 

In addition to academics, Morenilla works with her students to prepare for college visits and interviews and “anything that has to do with getting ready for college.” Destinations for recent college visits with her students have included Princeton University, TCNJ, Rutgers, NYU, and Temple. 

Praising the support of Princeton University undergraduate volunteer tutors, Princeton Public Schools (PPS), and LALDEF, Morenilla, who also serves as bilingual parent liaison for PPS, said, “It’s important for these kids to know they have someone to back them up. I’m very proud of them. These are kids who really really try. It’s very rewarding to know that we’re all on the same page.”

To be eligible for admission into FUTURO students must be residents of Trenton or Princeton, a rising junior (currently a sophomore) in high school, with a GPA of 3.0 or above, family income at or below 80 percent of the Area Median Income, and a first- or second-generation immigrant.

LALDEF notes that Hispanic residents in Trenton have a 50 percent high school graduation rate. In Trenton 12 percent of all residents hold at least a bachelor’s degree, but only about 5 percent of Hispanic residents hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The PACF promotes philanthropy and builds community across Mercer County and central New Jersey, helping people and companies make effective charitable gifts and awards grants to nonprofits. Since its founding in 1991 it has made grants of more than $126 million.