For nearly 40 years, Esperanza, Inc., has provided hope to Greater Clevelanders — in the form of scholarships, career training, digital literacy classes, summer camps, ESL classes and much more.
It’s only fitting Esperanza means “hope” in Spanish. It’s the area’s only nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion and advancement of Hispanic educational achievement.
“We are not a workforce development program, we are in career-force development, we invest in students long term,” says Samara McCullough, Esperanza Director of Development, on a on a recent morning as she provided tour of the center’s three-floor offices in a historic building at 3104 West 25th Street in the Clark-Fulton area.
Esperanza, Inc., was founded in 1983 as a community project to improve the educational opportunities for Hispanics by motivating and recognizing academic achievement through scholarships. One scholarship was given the first year.
Today, Esperanza awards more than 100 college scholarships totaling more than $100,000 annually through the support of corporations, foundations and individual donors. More than $2 million in scholarships has been awarded since Esperanza’s founding.
But the organization is about much more than scholarships. Not long after its beginning, Esperanza’s founders recognized the need to expand their services by adding programs to address more of the educational needs of the community
“Our mission is to serve lifelong learners,” says McCullough. “Not just students K — 12. We provide support for the whole family.”
Just this week, Esperanza was the recipient of national recognition for its outstanding Post-Secondary Program, earning the 2022 Example of Excelencia for Community Based Organizations. The designation establishes Esperanza as a national model for effective, culturally responsive programming to further Latinx college success.
“This national recognition is the result of our team’s dedication to developing effective programs that address the unique challenges of Hispanic students, particularly first-generation, and enable them to successfully complete their degree in a reasonable timeframe,” says Executive Director Victor Ruiz. “I am proud that our program will be promoted as a model to guide to other community organizations across the country to help students secure the education and skills, they need to fulfill their dreams.”
A typical week at Esperanza might feature ESL classes for children and adults, group and one-on-one mentoring, digital literacy classes, computer and workforce skills classes at the Tri-C Access Center, GED programs, citizenship sessions, “Women in Transition” classes, and in the summer, STEAM camps for elementary students.
There is also a drop-in tech lab, where community members without computers and printers at home can use Esperanza’s resources for everything from doing homework or college applications to browsing the web for resources, as an elderly woman was doing on a recent weekday morning.
Some of the classes are at the center, but much of Esperanza’s outreach is at area elementary and secondary schools, like the Hispanic Youth Leadership Program (HYLP) at Lincoln West. All of their programming is bilingual, and it doesn’t stop when a scholarship is awarded. Support services offered include Lideres Avanzando, a semester-long program that helps first-generation students navigate the higher education system, build a personal and professional support network, and provide the skills and support necessary to graduate with a college degree. Mentoring and internship programs match students with qualified professional for career guidance, and provide access to internship opportunities.
Elizabeth Semidei, Ezperanza’s Development and Marketing Assistant, took advantage of many of Esperanza’s youth and college programs over the years. She began attending Esperanza programs when she was in middle school, later becoming involved in the HYLP program in high school, and was the recipient of a scholarship which she used to attend Cleveland State University. “I’m so happy to be giving back to my community and Esperanza.”
“We support everyone here, the whole family,” she says. “Nobody leaves here without a solution to what they were looking or an answer to a problem.”
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In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15 — October 15, Greater Cleveland Partnership is spotlighting Hispanic businesses, leaders and events through October 15. We’d love your input. Email suggestions to [email protected].
Greater Cleveland Partnership’s All In vision for a Great Region on a Great Lake has five key priorities: Dynamic Business, Abundant Talent, Inclusive Opportunity, Appealing Community and Business Confidence. All of our work ties back to these values. This story relates to Inclusive Opportunity.