Nonprofit spotlight: Club Rotario opens doors with college scholarships for locals
Sometimes all it takes to achieve a big goal is just one vote of confidence from people who want to see you succeed.
Jesse Monsalve knows this scenario well. A former Glenwood Springs High School student and freshly minted Colorado Mountain College graduate with two associate degrees under his belt, Monsalve, 20, says that encouragement he received from the Roaring Fork Rotary Club, which came in the form of a scholarship, helped him pursue his dream of becoming a professional theater artist.
“I have actually received a scholarship from them twice,” he said. “Now I want to return to CMC for another degree in new media, to go along with the two I already have in theater and business administration.”
Monsalve, who moved to Colorado from Colombia when he was 15, is one of scores of young, new residents and first-generation students who have received Roaring Fork Rotary scholarships to pursue higher education at CMC in recent years. The group, which shares 501(c)3 status under the registered nonprofit Roaring Fork Valley Rotary Foundation, is more frequently known as Club Rotario.
The club hopes their scholarships will help open doors for students whose families may not otherwise have had the financial means to attend college.
“Once I finish here, I am thinking about moving on to a school in maybe Chicago or New York to earn a bachelor’s and eventually a master’s degree,” Monsalve said of his ambitions. “This summer I have been saving money and working four jobs — three of those I got because of my theater degree from CMC. So, full circle, I don’t think this could have happened without receiving the scholarship money.”
Other local recipients include Walter Vasquez, who dreams of opening his own biotech laboratory someday and is currently pursuing a degree in chemistry at CMC Spring Valley, and Heather McCain, a mother of two who recently earned a bachelor’s of business administration at CMC Rifle.
“I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t think it was possible,” McCain said. “For someone like me without much extra time or resources, the only way I could attend college was with the help of scholarships. So I am very thankful for the assistance I received.”
Club Rotario has awarded more than $100,000 in scholarship funds to date. Founded in 2004 with the goal of forming a predominantly Spanish-speaking local Rotary chapter, the club now includes 15 members hailing from four different countries who work in a variety of professions.
“We have a huge focus on raising funds for our local student scholarships. For many immigrant families who are struggling simply to put food on the table, the thought of putting a kid through college might seem impossible,” said Jen Elliott-Quevedo, Club Rotario president. “So, our goal is to take a bit of that financial worry away — to give the kids an opportunity to take that initial leap and continue their education.”
Club Rotario’s scholarship program is one branch of its larger mission to integrate the local Anglo and Latino communities.
“In the valley, unfortunately, we frequently encounter a mindset of ‘us and them,’ which can result in misunderstanding and animosity. As a multicultural group ourselves, we want to try to break down this barrier in the community,” Elliott-Quevedo noted. “We hope to foster as much cross-cultural communication and understanding as we can.”
This Sunday, Club Rotario will host its 15th annual Festival las Americas, a culmination of its efforts to raise scholarship money and bring the entire community together. A fundraiser and a celebration of Latino culture, the event will take place in Carbondale’s Sopris Park from 11 a.m. to dusk. There is a $10 entrance fee for ages 12 and older.
“This year Festival las Americas is bigger than ever and all are equally welcome. It’s very kid-friendly, with plenty of food and entertainment for everyone in the family,” Elliott-Quevedo said.
Throughout the day, festivities will include everything from face painting and bounce houses to the event’s ever-popular dunk tank. Food vendors will be selling edible delights featuring a range of flavors from the Americas while entertainers perform for the crowd. The lineup of acts includes local magician Jammin’ Jim, jazz fusion artist Chantil Dukart, Denver’s own La Nueva Lealtad, and headliners Grupo Control from Texas.
In 2015, Festival las Americas drew more than 1,000 attendees. Elliott-Quevedo hopes that this year’s event will draw an even larger number.
“The more people who come, the more we can raise for scholarships,” she said. Proceeds from tickets, vendor fees and beer garden sales will all go toward the club’s scholarship program to help meet their goal of awarding $15,000 among 20 CMC students this year.
The impact of these scholarships continues to ripple throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, as young graduates use their degrees to carve professional lives for themselves beyond what they may have ever thought possible.
“We believe education is key in helping students reach their goals and dreams,” said Elliott-Quevedo. “And we hope that over time, these students will not only feel more integrated in the community but will bring continued understanding across both cultural groups in the valley.”