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Santa Esquivel helps her daughter Christy, 9, with her homework as Kimberly, 11, works on her assignment Jan. 19 at their home in Millard. MIKE MAY/STAFF

Scholarship helps Latino students, families

When Latino children have the opportunity for a Catholic education, the faith of the whole family can grow.

That’s a benefit the Esquivel family of Omaha experiences with the help of the Archdiocese of Omaha’s Latino Catholic Scholarship.

With six children, four of whom attend Mary Our Queen School, parents Jaime and Santa depend on the scholarship to ensure that Kimberly, 11, Christy, 9, Justin, 8, and Kaily, 6, get a high-quality education and a strong grounding in the Catholic faith.

Jaime and Santa also learn more about their own faith.

“When the kids come home from school, we talk about what they learned in class and about God,” Jaime said. “We get to know more about God, too.”

And the Esquivels know their children will receive a “beautiful message” that enriches their faith during each weekly Mass they attend at school, Santa said.

The scholarship also enables them to give their children the high-quality education they didn’t have, Jaime said.

Created in 2003, the scholarship helps low-income Latino families who otherwise could not afford a Catholic education for their children, said Beatriz Arellanes, coordinator of Latino school enrollment for the archdiocese’s Catholic Schools Office.

“For these parents, the education in our Catholic faith, as well as the academic piece, are very important,” she said. “For many, it’s been a dream to enroll their kids in Catholic school.”

To receive a scholarship, families first apply to the Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF) of Omaha, the local affiliate of a nationwide organization providing scholarships to help K-eighth grade, low-income students who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch attend private or parochial schools.

Names of Latino families not selected for a CSF scholarship through its lottery system are given to Arellanes’ team in the Catholic Schools Office, which assesses financial needs and determines awards.

Families must be willing to pay a portion of tuition to qualify, and students must maintain at least a 90 percent attendance record to continue receiving the renewable scholarships, Arellanes said.

This is the second school year her children have received the Latino scholarship, Santa said. “We are blessed that we have the scholarship. Without it, I know we could never have our kids in Mary Our Queen.” 

“I’m really glad I can go to Mary Our Queen,” said Kimberly. “I learn a lot about God and I’m really thankful. It helps me to stay closer to God, to pray more and to be more faithful.”

“A lot of Latino people think they can’t afford private school,” Santa said. “I thought the same until Beatriz helped me understand that I could get help. I told her I was going to do whatever to the end to help my kids have a better education.”

In gratitude, she has helped promote the scholarships on Radio Lobo, Omaha’s Hispanic radio station. “I tell people not to be afraid to ask for help,” she said. 

Since its inception, nearly 

$1 million in scholarships has been awarded, said Shannan Brommer, director of the Office of Stewardship and Development for the archdiocese. 

Scholarship money has been raised in a variety of ways, she said, including the fund’s selection by the Omaha City Council as a charity qualified to receive a portion of fireworks sales.

It also has a special connection with St. Stephen the Martyr Parish in Omaha where founding pastor Father Gerald Gonderinger, now pastor of Divine Mercy Parish in Schuyler, shared with his parishioners his commitment to helping predominantly Latino Assumption/Guadalupe School.

When the school closed in 2013, the parish continued supporting Latino students through the scholarship. 

This school year, 57 families received Latino Catholic scholarships for 89 students, Arellanes said.

The scholarship has improved the lives of many Latino students, she said.

“It has opened a different world (to them), with more and better opportunities. They live our Catholic faith every single day in school and find joy and support to grow and improve their skills and knowledge,” she said.

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