Program to hand out 27 scholarships

Tri-City HeraldMay 2, 2013 

Twenty-seven scholarships worth about $66,500 will be given to graduating seniors on Sunday at the 24th annual awards ceremony for the Hispanic Academic Achievers Program.

The program also will honor a record 4,443 fourth-graders to high school seniors at the event at TRAC. Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza is the keynote speaker.

One less scholarship will be given out than last year and the total scholarship money also is down by $26,000.

However, organizers said that was because of a single large contribution last year. Still, local businesses and sponsors are continuing to support Mid-Columbia students. “(Donations are) actually a little bit higher,” said HAAP President Liz Villanueva Torres.

HAAP was founded in 1990 to encourage high academic standards among Hispanic students in the Kennewick, Pasco, Richland, North Franklin, Finley and Columbia school districts. Private schools Liberty Christian and Tri-Cities Prep also participate.

Torres said the increasing number of students honored by the program for maintaining a minimum 3.0 GPA isn’t the only change for HAAP. This is the first time the ceremony will be on a Sunday instead of a weekday evening.

That was done in coordination with sponsors Tu Decides Media and Walmart to allow Esparza to be the speaker. She also is speaking earlier in the day at a different event for Tu Decides at TRAC.

Dozens of private businesses and individuals provided money for this year’s scholarships, with the top award being $10,000.

WSU Tri-Cities is providing less than it did last year but will still contribute $11,500 for two scholarships, Torres said.

Melissa O’Neil Perdue, spokeswoman for WSU Tri-Cities, said the university still is very supportive of HAAP and its participating students. However, the school gave less partly because of changes to its financial aid and scholarships.

“Increasingly, our donors prefer to give to our general scholarship fund, which pools their donations in a way that allows us to make awards where the need is the greatest,” said James R. Pratt, interim chancellor at WSU Tri-Cities. “We’ve also changed the way we support incoming freshmen and transfer students with our New Student Academic Achievement Award.”

Along with reforming the way the school’s tuition waivers previously were provided, the New Student Academic Achievement Award program will make an additional $62,000 available to academically talented students in need.

Organizers said the community continues to rally for HAAP’s cause and this year’s event will continue efforts to recognize and help the area’s dedicated Hispanic students.

“We’re excited, we’re looking forward to it,” Torres said.

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