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Fort Wayne fundraiser helps Dreamers get a degree

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) — This Saturday marks the 13th annual Noche de Gala – the fundraiser for the Hispanic Leadership Coalition of Northeast Indiana (HLCNI).

The nonprofit offers scholarships to low-income first and second-generation Hispanic students in our region.

ABC21 is a proud sponsor of the yearly fundraiser for HLCNI. Four years ago, the organization partnered with Questa to give scholarships and forgivable student loans to local students attending local colleges and who commit to staying and working in Northeast Indiana for at least five years after graduation – regardless of their citizenship status.

We wanted to check in on one of the original six students to receive that financial aid.

Under an electrical tower, just behind the I-69 and Goshen Road overpass, you’ll find Juan Gonzalez Rangel helping his little brother with homework while their parents work a night shift.

“I don’t know if people understand what it’s like to live illegally in the United States but it’s scary,” says Rangel.

His parents cross the border illegally when he was 3-years-old.

“I’ve lived here all my life,” says Rangel. “So all I know is the United States.”

Rangel is one of the estimated 3.6 million undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. before their 18th birthday, the so-called “Dreamers.”

“Just to know you can get deported at any moment,” says Rangel. “You’re whole life can just change at any moment. That’s scary.”

School work helped manage that fear.

“When I open a book and I take a test and I do good in school – that makes me feel welcome,” says Rangel.

And he proved good at school. He graduated sixth in his class at Northrop High School, but when he started searching through hundreds of scholarships to help pay for college, he kept hitting the same roadblock.

“There would always be that fine print,” says Rangel.

Dreamers don’t qualify for the nation’s most common financial aid program – FAFSA. And even though Rangel has called Fort Wayne home since before he can remember, Dreamers must pay out-of-state tuition to attend even some public schools.

“You’re welcome,” says Rangel. “But you’re not welcome. It was extremely hard. I felt like wow, nobody appreciates me.”

“We want to make sure that these students get educated,” says Paula Avila, president of HLCNI. “We know with education there’s a level of self-fulfillment that helps the whole community.”

Avila remembers working with a group of 15 Latino students at Saint Francis.

“What I noticed with the freshman is that half of them ended up dropping out,” recalls Avila.

But the students who received the Questa and HLCNI scholarships….

“They’re still pursuing their educational degree,” says Avila.

“That’s $20,000!” exclaims Rangel. “That’s huge! Financially I feel like I can breath, because I can go to school, and I can study.”

Juan is entering his junior year at the nursing program at Saint Francis. He took a year off of school to return to Mexico and get a green card. He plans to graduate in 2021.

The gala kicks off at 6:30 p.m. at the Parkview Mirro Center. Doors open at 6. There will be a live band, salsa lessons and a silent auction. Tickets are $80 and there are still a few left. You can buy one at the door on a first-come, first-serve basis, or you can call to buy tickets or make a donation at (260) 222-7099.

Alexis Shear

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