Proceeds from diners go to WSU scholarship for children with non-resident status

Apr 12 2013 - 6:35am

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Weber State University President Chuck Wight chats with Alexis DeJesus, a WSU social work major, as both dined on Thursday at a Sonora Grill event to raise money for the new Sonora Grill Scholarship Fund. NANCY VAN VALKENBURG/Standard-Examiner
Seating was near capacity on Thursday at Ogden’s Sonora Grill, which will use all money paid for the day’s meals to start a new scholarship aimed at helping needy sophomores whose parents immigrated to the United States. NANCY VAN VALKENBURG/Standard-Examiner
Weber State University President Chuck Wight chats with Alexis DeJesus, a WSU social work major, as both dined on Thursday at a Sonora Grill event to raise money for the new Sonora Grill Scholarship Fund. NANCY VAN VALKENBURG/Standard-Examiner
Seating was near capacity on Thursday at Ogden’s Sonora Grill, which will use all money paid for the day’s meals to start a new scholarship aimed at helping needy sophomores whose parents immigrated to the United States. NANCY VAN VALKENBURG/Standard-Examiner

OGDEN -- Diners on Thursday at Ogden's Sonora Grill had an extra reason to leave feeling satisfied.

They knew every penny they paid for their burritos, enchiladas and other flavorful fare will go toward a new local scholarship to help motivated students who have few other options to fund their college education.

The one-day event was a kickoff for the new Sonora Grill Scholarship Fund, which starting next school year, will help to pay one needy Northern Utah college sophomore who does not yet have full United States resident status.

"This scholarship will help provide an educational opportunity for students who are first-generation students and members of underserved communities," said Chuck Wight, Weber State University president. "It's a life-changing opportunity for someone who might not be in school without it.

"Education helps broaden people's experience, and makes them better citizens," Wight said. "And financially, every $1,000 you spend on higher education gets you approximately an extra $1,000 per year back in wages for the rest of your career."

Steve Ballard, Sonora Grill owner and operator, said he started the scholarship because he would like to see the percentage of racial minorities attending college more closely mirror the percentage of racial minorities in Utah's communities.

"There is a need for businesses to step forward," Ballard said. "The Dream Act gave these students in-state tuition, but because they are not residents, they don't qualify for any other scholarships. Private business can step up and bridge the gap."

Ballard said he targeted sophomores for the scholarship because a student who had completed freshman year might have used up available family savings, but also would have proven he or she had a strong worth ethic and the determination to succeed.

"These people are the future leaders of the community," Ballard said.

Ballard said his goal was to raise $10,000 in diner payments to fund the new scholarship. A donor who asked to remain anonymous pledged to match what Sonora Grill raises up to a limit of $25,000. And by late in the lunch shift, Ballard was already predicting the day's receipts would exceed his original goal.

"People are really coming out to support this cause," he said.

The lunch crowd included community members, Weber State faculty members and minority students who had benefited from Opportunidad scholarships. Opportunidad provides scholarships to worthy students who do not have Social Security numbers because of their citizenship status. The Sonora Grill Scholarship will fall under the Opportunidad umbrella, Ballard said.

WSU social work major Alexis DeJesus, 20, an Ogden resident from Mexico, received an Opportunidad scholarship. DeJesus is in the U.S. on a work permit.

"It's a huge deal," he said of scholarship opportunities like the one he got. "It opens all the doors at Weber State University. Without it, getting a good education would be more complicated and would require many more years and a lot more sacrifice."

Sonora Grill's new scholarship, along with its support by enthusiastic diners, "is one of the most amazing things I have seen a business or a community do," DeJesus said.

Michiko Nakashima-Lizarazo, director of WSU's Multicultural Student Center (www.weber.edu/multicultural), said Opportunidad scholarships help four to six students each year.

"Education gives them an opportunity to advance in life," she said. "These students work hard and put in long hours. They really want this knowledge."

WSU senior Laura Natalia Munos, a Layton resident from Colombia, also benefited from an Opportunidad scholarship.

"It kept me in college," said Munos, who plans to finish her health administration degree during the summer session. Munos has conditional U.S. residency and will seek U.S. citizenship.

"It was a blessing," Munos said of the scholarship. "So many struggle with so much, and are not able to come to college because of money issues. This allows them to come, and to build a better life. Everyone wants the American dream."

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