Juventino Meza, a Mexican immigrant, had been living in the United States for about a year when he dropped out of high school to work in a restaurant.
“A lot of my classmates were dropping out of high school, too, for work and things like that,” Meza said. “I sort of started believing that that’s what I needed to do because no one was telling me otherwise.”
But it didn’t take long for Meza to realize that working in a restaurant wasn’t what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. So he went back to school determined to obtain something many people had told him was out of reach for an immigrant — a college education.
But, where to begin, he wondered.
“I picked up that I had to do a lot of work on my own because a lot of people weren’t going to help me,” he said.
Achieveing his goal
It wasn’t until Meza joined Admission Possible, a program that provides guidance to low-income students seeking to attend college, that he learned about admission tests, the application process, financial aid and scholarships.
To gain a competitive advantage, he worked hard to become fluent in English, enrolled in Advanced Placement classes and began volunteering.
This year Meza, now 23, did what some people had told him was impossible. He marched across a stage at Augsburg College in Minneapolis to accept his diploma.
Today, the justice and peace major is executive director of Navigate, a Minneapolis nonprofit organization that helps immigrant students achieve the same “impossible dream” of becoming the first in their families to get a college education.
Navigate is one of several local organizations receiving grants this year from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development — the U.S. bishops’ domestic anti-poverty program that funds community development programs around the country — or its local counterpart program, the Christian Sharing Fund.
Meza, who helped found Navigate four years ago, said the $13,500 grant will go toward providing internships and scholarships for immigrants. It also will help the organization conduct more presentations and conferences for students, families and school personnel.
Empowering the poor
A combined CCHD/CSF collection will take place in most parishes Nov. 19-20, the weekend before Thanksgiving.
The anti-poverty campaign’s aim, according to local CCHD/CSF coordinator Cheryl Peterson, “is to support low-income and marginalized people who are working for their own systemic change.”
To receive CCHD/CSF funding, projects must be initiated or led by low-income people, Peterson said.
“It’s more than charity; it’s a justice response, a systemic response,” she explained. “Those who experience a problem are better at ascertaining how to solve it than those of us on the outside because we don’t know what all the issues are.”
By addressing the root causes of poverty, she added, “CCHD aims to change the situation of poverty for people not just for today . . . but for a lifetime.”
Seventy-five percent of the money collected within the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis goes to organizations selected by the CCHD national office, including several Twin Cities organizations. The other 25 percent goes to local organizations chosen by an archdiocesan advisory board with Archbishop John Nienstedt’s approval.
“Because the Twin Cities has organizations that are doing the kind of social change work that CCHD funds . . . most of the money that is collected in this diocese really comes back to this diocese, whether it’s in the form of a CCHD national grant or whether it’s in the form of a local grant,” Peterson said.
Last year, nearly $200,000 in combined CCHD/CSF funding was awarded to Twin Cities area organizations.
In addition to Navigate, local CCHD/CSF grant recipients for 2011-2012 are All Parks Alliance for Change, City of Lakes Community Land Trust, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha, Somali Action Alliance Education Fund, Hope Community and St. Stephen’s Human Services Human Rights Program.
While grantees are not required to be Catholic, all applications are carefully reviewed to ensure that funds are provided only to projects with objectives and actions that are fully in accord with Catholic teaching, Peterson said.
For more information about the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, go to http://www.usccb.org, or contact Cheryl Peterson at (651) 291-4490 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Navigate, or to arrange for a representative to speak to a school or youth group, go to http://www.navigatemn.org or send an email to email@example.com.
Category: Local News