Fort Lee residents roll up their sleeves and get involved in many volunteer activities in the area. Resident Miriam Lopez has contributed her time, energy and enthusiasm supporting the work of Bergen County’s Hispanic Business Council Scholarship Foundation of NJ, Inc. (HBCSF), an all volunteer-driven, nonprofit, tax-exempt organization with a mission to advance the educational aspirations of Hispanic students to become professionals, leaders and valued citizens of the community.
Lopez has been involved with the organization since it began as a program.
“I became involved with HBCSF in 1994," she explained. "It started off as a scholarship award program under the auspices of the Bergen County Hispanic-American Chamber of Commerce (BCHACC) and later was established as a way for the chamber to give back to the community. Although the BCHACC is no longer operational, the scholarship program continues to raise and award funds to deserving Hispanic students on the undergraduate level.”
During that time, Lopez has seen many changes. The organization has evolved, for example, from giving two $1,000 scholarships in 1993 to 19 awards totaling $40,000 to be awarded in 2012, she said.
“We have a dedicated, hard working board of directors that has grown from four individuals to 12 and an advisory council from various walks of life and expertise,” she added.
A highlight was the organization’s 20th anniversary celebration last year.
“It felt great to know that we have been able to raise funds 20 years in a row and celebrated our accomplishments of awarding $325,500 to 120 students during that period,” Lopez said.
A certified financial planner with a financial advisory and wealth management practice at U.S. Financial Services, LLC in Fairfield, Lopez wears many hats with the foundation, from serving on the board of directors, to raising funds, to actively networking and promoting the HBCSF’s mission. She also promotes the scholarship and stipend opportunities available to eligible students, chairs the selection process committee, distributes the funds to the recipients' colleges and assists the stipend awardees with purchasing course-required materials.
Another Fort Lee resident, Ramón de la Cruz, JD, MBA, recently joined the HBCSF’s board of directors and encouraged others to get involved in the organization.
“Today more than ever, a person can barely avoid reading or hearing negativity about the future," he said. "Supporting the HBCSF is a purposeful step towards a solution and it gives one solace that the future is positive. Knowing that you are helping students achieve their academic goals makes you feel great inside.”
De la Cruz volunteers his legal expertise and leadership experience in other professional associations to the organization and collaborates to support the HBCSF students and scholarship program.
He said, “I was aware of the good work for students made by the HBCSF and knew of the earnest dedication of its Board. I wanted to collaborate and make a difference in the community.”
He added that self-improvement through education is key to individual and community wellbeing.
“Through the academic success of HBCSF’s scholarship students, I believe the organization is contributing to the future health and prosperity of the community,” De la Cruz said.
Lopez pointed out that people from Fort Lee and other areas can become involved with the HBCSF in different ways, such as serving as a mentor to a scholarship recipient, volunteering on one of its committees, purchasing an ad in the annual gala journal, or attending the foundation’s 21st annual gala and major fundraiser at The Estate at Florentine Gardens in River Vale on May 3.
The foundation is now accepting applications for its 2012 awards. HBCSF will present $40,000 in tuition scholarships and stipend awards for required course materials for high school seniors planning to attend or students attending an accredited four-year university, college, community college, trade or technical school anywhere in the country. Award amounts range from $1,000 to $4,000. Students pursuing an undergraduate degree in all majors may apply.
Open to New Jersey residents of Hispanic heritage, applicants must have a cumulative 3.0 GPA in high school or college and enroll full-time in the 2012-2013 academic year at an accredited postsecondary institution or trade school. Scholarship recipients are required to maintain a 3.0 GPA and complete 80 hours of community service between June 2012 and June 2013.
Frequently asked questions can be found (and downloaded) on HBCSF’s website.
Applications and all required information must be postmarked by Wednesday, February 29, 2012. An application can also be accessed and downloaded online.
Interviews and the final award selection will be completed by the end of March, and the scholarship recipients will be announced and presented at the annual gala on May 3.
Donations are welcome and may be made online or sent to HBCSF, 429C Cedar Lane #313, Teaneck, New Jersey 07666.