DreamMakers Luncheon raises more than $187,000 for First Gen scholarships

The total impact of the Oct. 4 FIU President’s Council fundraiser at the Coral Gables Country Club, with state match, is almost $375,000. To date, FIU has awarded more than $4 million through its First Generation Scholarship Fund.

Laura Sanchez was among the Panthers that expressed a “sincere gratitude on behalf of all FIU students who have been awarded the First Generation Scholarship.” Sanchez grew up in Cuba with her caregiver-grandmother Joaquina Alonso, who said she was proud of her granddaughter and her academic achievements – and that she thought it was “wonderful that FIU supports its students with opportunities such as First Gen.” Here, they are joined by FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg at the luncheon. Photo: Roldan Torres ’85.

If you were to ask any of the 250 FIU supporters, students and alumni gathered for lunch in an elegant ballroom at the Coral Gables Country Club Oct. 4 what they thought of the FIU First Generation Scholarship Fund, they all would’ve said the initiative is a most important one.

We know because we did.

The First Gen Fund matters because “education….helping to provide the access to education is essential and makes a huge difference,” as Lourdes Balepogi ’00, chair of the FIU President’s Council’s First Generation Task Force, said.

It matters because, as President’s Council Chairman Victor Balestra noted, the First Gen Fund “is the only active state-matching program remaining” in Florida.

And it matters because, as Colombian student Juan Alonso ’12, a recent Honors College alumnus who graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s in political science, said, “I would not have been able to develop as a leader and as a professional” without it.

Most of all, the First Gen Fund is especially significant because it is one of the university’s efforts around which the Panther family rallies.

Encouraging ‘success stories’

“We are here because every student counts,” said FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg. “We are here because hope is alive…the American Dream is alive, and we have to send the clear message that the better our students get, the better our community will get.”

Perhaps it was the beautiful early afternoon or the delicious meal guests shared, but the spirit of giving also was alive and well. Money raised at the luncheon surpassed the President’s Council’s $100,000 goal for the year, bringing in more than $187,000 for scholarships for first-generation students. With the state match, the luncheon’s total impact is almost $375,000.

At FIU, first-generation students represent 53 percent of the undergraduate student body.

“This is our fifth consecutive year supporting the First Generation Scholarship Fund at FIU and we couldn’t be prouder to be a part of this,” said Jorge Villacampa, a senior vice president at Wells Fargo. The bank once again stepped up to the plate as a leading corporate donor to FIU First Generation Scholarship Fund, presenting a check for $52,000 at the event.

Wells Fargo’s generosity inspired a flurry of donations by other institutions, including First Bank ($10,000), Ocean Bank ($5,000), the Great Business Project ($10,000) and Espirito Santo Bank ($13,500), as well as from individuals inspired by the stories they heard throughout the program or the First Gen students seated at their tables, like Cuban-born Laura Sanchez, a junior nursing student. She spoke about the difference First Gen has made in her life and how grateful she is “for people like all of you who make dreams a reality for students like me.”

As master of ceremony Ian Grocher ’99, a.k.a. DJ Irie, said, “You can leave here and say you were not given dessert at this lunch – your generosity earned you your dessert.”

Among those who earned a lovely tiramisu was Raul Vidal ’74, a graduate of FIU’s first business class.

“We see the results of what FIU has done for the community,” said the senior vice president of Espirito Santo Bank. “A quarter of our employees are Panthers, so we know about FIU’s success stories, and we think it’s important to celebrate and encourage these success stories.”