New York State Funding Supports LUCA’s Growth

On Wednesday, July 20th, LUCA and our New York State Senate and Assembly Representatives: Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senator Shelley B. Mayer, Assemblymember Amy Paulin, and Assemblymember Chris Burdick highlighted $350,000 funding secured in the New York State budget for program expansion in Westchester County. “We are honored to be included in the state budget and look forward to supporting even more first-generation students as they enroll and succeed in college,” said Cosette Gutierrez, Executive Director. 

This generous funding will allow us to deepen our existing school partnerships at White Plains, Ossining, Sleepy Hollow, and Elmsford and expand programming into additional high Latino serving school districts throughout Westchester County, including Port Chester, Peekskill, New Rochelle, and Bedford“At LUCA, we believe in the incredible potential and talent of Latino youth,” said Shirley Acevedo Buontempo, Founder and Strategic Growth Officer. “When we invest in Latino students, we are investing in a brighter future for them, for our communities, and for our nation.” 

During the press conference, two Scholars shared heartfelt remarks about how LUCA helped them achieve their college dreams. The first Scholar was Jocelyn Nieto, a Class of 2015 Scholar and 2018 graduate of American University. While reflecting on my academic and professional journey, I am positive that achieving my goals was thanks in great part to the unconditional support of the LUCA Familia,” Jocelyn shared. “As a first-gen student, there is an overwhelming amount of anxiety surrounding the college process and the world after graduation. Thankfully, I always had LUCA’s support.” 

Attendees also heard from Kate Hidalgo, a Class of 2021 Scholar and rising sophomore at the University of Rochester. She explained, “When I was selected as a Latino U Scholar I was excited and relieved. What I didn’t realize was how much more being a Scholar would mean. LUCA understands that, when you’re first-gen, it is not only the student applying to college but the whole family.”

The entire LUCA Familia is grateful to the Senators and Assemblymembers who made this incredible funding possible. Their support will allow LUCA to enter its next phase of growth and serve even more dedicated students as they become the first in their families to attend college!

What the full Press Conference here!

LUCA is proud to launch the second #InTheirOwnWords series! Over the next few weeks, we will share personal statement essays written by the Latino U Scholars Class of 2022 so that our Scholars can introduce themselves and share their experiences – in their own words. All essays are shared with the permission of each Scholar. The essay below was written by Ramses, a Latino U Scholar from White Plains High School.


“What happened to your hand!?” 

Hearing someone ask this, who wouldn’t think they were gushing blood? But it was far from the crimson red I pictured; instead, a black substance coated my fingers and palms. “It’s just ink,” I laughed. Not ordinary ink, though, but ink from the fountain pen I had begged my mom for as a Christmas present. I had been longing for one: its sleek black shine and gold accents captivated me, holding the promise of elegant and unique writing. As with anything new and unfamiliar, unveiling that promise would take time. I had to practice writing smoothly to keep streaking and blotting to a minimum. Ink, like life, has other plans in mind, unpredictable as it flows through needle-thin crevices. 

The fountain pen has ambitions to write beautifully in extravagant cursive, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. Maybe that is why I wanted one so badly. My own desire to strive and succeed runs seamlessly through my needle-thin arteries like ink through a nib. It pumps ambition and desire into everything I attempt, from tinkering with music to drawing, videography, and technology. When I first tried to play the trumpet, I sat in a room until my lips were numb, intent on mastering it despite my lack of experience. When I decided that I wanted to learn how to modify device software, I stared at the Apple logo on my phone for hours, determined to figure it out. Success in any endeavor can only be realized through aspiration for improvement and trial and error. There will always be mistakes along the way, just like the streaks and blots from the ink.

There is nothing quite like the ink in a fountain pen, with each color reflecting its own hue, shades, and attributes. Blessed with a unique name that people remember, I have never been one for conformity either. The unusual intrigues me. I seamlessly transition from a long school day or track practice to watching mathematics or programming YouTube videos such as Numberphile, 3Blue1Brown, or Harvard’s CS50. My curiosity grows as I learn and think deeply about the creative and unusual approaches to calculus, prime numbers, and the most ingenious and unique lessons on Python. However, I can just as easily transition to the more mundane, even simply helping out my mother at home. Like the multi-faceted nature of the ink, I have multiple aspects to myself. 

Life, like the swirling lines written by my fountain pen, is smooth….. until it isn’t. Just as ink streaks, I have had my share of messes, like unexpected family feuds, peer pressure, and the sight of my mother pushing through pain and tears for the future of her children. With an unreliable father, my mother was forced to add to her workload, cleaning house after house, room after room. Seeing her struggle, I realized the literal and physical weight she was carrying. When I began to feel pressured by friends to behave in ways I knew were wrong, I recognized that I had to clean up those “streaks,” determined to honor her sacrifices by achieving academic success. Though too young to work to help our financial instability, I took on extra household chores and also started tutoring my mom in math and science, so that she can obtain her GED. Some of the messes I’ve faced might have left a permanent stain, but with each year and each challenge, I choose new colors, working to follow new paths my life might take.

Through stained hands, spilled ink, and refill upon refill, I will continue to write my own story with as much elegance as I can muster, knowing that there will certainly be messes along the way.

LUCA is proud to launch the second #InTheirOwnWords series! Over the next few weeks, we will share personal statement essays written by the Latino U Scholars Class of 2022 so that our Scholars can introduce themselves and share their experiences – in their own words. All essays are shared with the permission of each Scholar. The essay below was written by Jaly, a Latino U Scholar from Ossining High School.


I hate the smell of incienso burning as we walk. My feet hurt, my legs are cold, my coat is the size of my entire body. This skirt is hideous and I hate my hair. My head aches as my braids pull at my scalp. Why did my mother make me do this? Why are we walking around the village towards the church? Platillera is such an ugly name; the platillo I must hold is so bulky and almost as big as I am. I’d rather be a florera, like the older girls, and carry pretty roses. Why am I wearing heels when I’m only nine years old? Everyone is staring, laughing, and recording. The music is deafening. All the songs sound the same; why is there a band? Kids from school are joining us in our walk, I hope they don’t see me with my mom. Is no one embarrassed? Every single year they celebrate this event. What are they celebrating and why does it always have to be on a day when it is snowing? Why do Ecuadorians have to eat guinea pigs for this celebration? Gross. 

In fifth grade my mother enrolls me in a dual-language program offered by my school district. At first, I am resentful. I’m supposed to be in a class with my friends from last year. Now, I’m learning how to speak and write in Spanish. Nobody laughs at me for stuttering and not being as fluent as they are. We create PowerPoint presentations for Hispanic Heritage Month. I’ve never seen so many kids rush to raise their hands and argue about who will represent Ecuador. For the last week, my classmates decide to bring cultural dishes from their native countries. My parents work full time, so I bring nothing. 

My new friend, Jasmine, who is also Ecuadorian, has made empanadas con queso. I grab a napkin and take an empanada that is still warm and crispy. The sprinkled sugar and pinched edges are perfectly done. She brought so many; they take hours to prepare and it is a huge effort not to burn them. I sip my apple juice and carefully take a tiny bite… I’ve never tasted anything so sweet and soft and brings me such delight. I rush and take a larger bite, one after the other. Suddenly, I feel full. I am left in dismay. I ate three empanadas. Is this what I’ve been missing out on all along? If empanadas taste this good, what must our other traditional foods taste like? In what other ways have I limited my life experiences? 

In high school, I’m no longer a platillera, I carry the roses now, I am a florera. My new pollera fits perfectly, it is not too long and not so heavy on my waist either. I am now appreciative to have participated in la Fiesta del Divino Niño Jesús throughout my formative years, as it celebrates an important part of my culture as an Ecuadorian woman. The internalized hatred of my culture, which I experienced in childhood no longer influences my perspective of myself and my ethnicity. I’m mindful of my thoughts and welcome my uniqueness as I shift away from idolizing European beauty standards and honor my indigenous long curved nose and wide lips. I try to convey this mindset to those around me who still struggle to see their absolute beauty; the beauty that has been passed down for generations by forebearers who’ve endured tremendous obstacles. I am the eldest daughter of immigrant parents. Although they are no longer able to celebrate their cherished traditions in their homeland, I am grateful that they have taught me to respect my cultural heritage. Now I continue to ask myself, in what other ways can I adequately deepen and restore my connection with my ancestors and my country?

During her junior year, Katherine, a student from Ossining High School, was accepted into the Latino U Scholars program and matched with her volunteer College Coach, Missy Closter. This was Missy’s first time as a College Coach; with guidance from LUCA and her commitment to our mission, she was ready for the journey ahead. 

The pair have been working together since the summer of 2021 meeting mostly via Zoom, but when possible, they met in person at their local library. Missy and Kathy have developed a great relationship, learning so much from one another. This fall, Katherine will become the first in her family to attend college at Lehigh University where she will be studying medicine! Learn more about Katherine and Missy by reading our interview with them below.

What was it like working together as a Coach and Scholar? What’s something that you’ve learned from each other?

We have a great working relationship – true partners.  As a Coach, timelines and goals to meet were set for Kathy. As for Kathy, it was evident she was determined and worked hard. We both learned it is important to keep an open mind.  From Kathy’s point of view, it is to keep all options open.  As a Coach, I have learned a lot about Kathy and her culture.  

Kathy, what are your career goals and aspirations?  

K: I have always been driven to help people, so in the future, I hope to work in the healthcare field and improve public health. 

What are you most excited about in this new chapter as you graduate high school and become the first in your family to go to college?

K: As a first-generation student, I am eager to finally experience college life and discover new people and interests. Also, I am excited to continue my education and keep making my family proud. 

What is the most rewarding part of having Missy as a Coach?

K: Having the opportunity to work with Missy as my Coach has been one of the greatest privileges I have received as part of LUCA. I genuinely appreciate her kindness and immense support throughout the whole college process. Her daily affirmations and comforting words have been of great help to me on days when I felt overwhelmed and confused. I loved how she always kept me on top of my deadlines; it was useful since I had multiple things going on at school. I have been blessed to meet Missy and will always respect and admire her.

Missy, how has your experience been as a volunteer College Coach?

M: My experience as a volunteer College Coach has been even more rewarding than I expected. I truly believe that there were moments when I was more excited about submitting the college application or finding out what the admissions decision would be.  I believe this because I have gone through the process with my own three children, and I recognize it is not a simple or easy one. If you are the first person in your family to embark on this journey, it can be overwhelming, confusing, and difficult. Watching Kathy go through the process was a “metamorphosis” (quoting her Common App essay )- a young sixteen-year-old girl who knew she should go to college, yet it was this abstract place in her mind.  Now, college is on the horizon, plus it’s an actual place she has visited! Kathy is ready to start her next chapter….at Lehigh University.

What is the best part about working with Kathy?

M: I have been humbled and have learned so much about Kathy and her community.  Hearing about Kathy’s life, whether it is about her younger years in Ecuador or her day-to-day life in Ossining has been eye-opening.  Kathy is mature beyond her years, and I have learned so much from her.   

What are your hopes for Katherine’s future?

M: My hope for Kathy is for her to have a college experience where she learns just as much outside the classroom as she does in the classroom. Learn about yourself, dedicate time to a community that is important to you, laugh with new friends, research something meaningful, dream big and go for it!

What message can you share about the rewards of being a College Coach at LUCA?

M: As a LUCA College Coach, the opportunity to work with an amazing young lady who has truly become part of my family! I have met her parents and brother.  Kathy has met my family via Zoom but she also had the privilege of visiting Lehigh with my daughter as her tour guide for the day.  Kathy once asked me what happens to our relationship once she graduates from Ossining HS.  I told her she has my contact info in her phone, I hope she uses it and I will always be here for her. She is part of the family now!!  Thus, this opportunity has enriched my life.

Where did you go to college? And what is your favorite college memory? 

M: I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Ask any alum and they will tell you that there was nothing better than hanging out with friends at the iconic Memorial Union Terrace overlooking Lake Mendota.  More recent graduates may claim watching a football game and doing the “Jump Around” at Camp Randall Stadium; however hard it is to admit, that was before my time when the team was in the cellar.

LUCA is proud to launch the second #InTheirOwnWords series! Over the next few weeks, we will share personal statement essays written by the Latino U Scholars Class of 2022 so that our Scholars can introduce themselves and share their experiences – in their own words. All essays are shared with the permission of each Scholar. The essay below was written by Luis, a Latino U Scholar from Sleepy Hollow High School.


“You should not be ashamed of collecting bottles and cans,” my parents said throughout my childhood. I had a hard time grasping that sentiment from an early age. When I collected bottles, my number one goal was to go unnoticed by anyone I knew. I thought my dignity would dissolve if anyone found out what I do with my spare time. I became stealthy. I took great pains to creep slowly along my route, and my efforts to remain quiet were almost painful. Once in a groove, I would daydream about the money I was earning, only to be brought back to the present, muscles clenched, by a rattling tin can. If only I knew then what I know now. 

Every Tuesday afternoon, at around five or six o’clock, I went out to collect bottles and cans along my assigned streets — given by my dad when I was in middle school. He sat me down and explained that we could make money by retrieving and returning the items on which each household had left a 5-cent deposit. Because the bottles and cans were already in the recycling bin, the original buyers clearly did not intend to take this step themselves. I stuffed my pockets with three leaf bags and headed off to my first stop, on a steep road. Walking up this hill was no trouble as I was accustomed to its erratic peaks and flats already. As I climbed the steep road,  I’d find blue bins on the curb of the first four houses I reached. I collected the recyclables: Smart Water bottles, Canada Dry cans, Corona & Bud Light dark glass bottles, and Poland Spring plastic bottles of every size. This is the population of the iconic blue bins you probably drive by every day.

Winter is tough: it’s my least favorite season when I’m collecting bottles and cans. When some people see snowflakes, they are reminded of Christmas and holiday joy. However, when I see snowflakes while collecting, I am reminded of an altercation I hope to forget. One evening, on my regular route, I saw a bag of cans and bottles neatly placed on the pavement in front of a house. As I approached to take it, a couple yelled at me from their doorstep to stop what I was doing. The woman growled at me, “Get out of here!” and continued with racist remarks I refuse to remember. I did what she told me, I left her curbside and the street entirely, never to go back. 

“One experience does not represent an entire society,” I told myself. I had to hold on to that fact to get myself out the door on the next collecting day. Many times, people were friendly to me. I remember a lovely woman who came out of her house several times to actually help me collect the bottles out of her recycling bin. I greatly appreciate this woman for validating my work. The years that I collected bottles and cans taught me that some people will always oppose what I’m doing and do anything in their power to prevent my success. I also learned there are always other places with friendlier people willing to support my efforts to earn money.

I learned so much from my experiences collecting bottles and cans that when I think back to my earliest days, I can hardly remember why I resisted. Over the years, I began to understand the power of positive thinking and the appreciation of others. When I was paid each week, I learned that all jobs are worthwhile, and I valued the money all the more. I feel proud of what I do because I know that it benefits my family financially, and I know that I’ve done my share to earn the money we have. As I continue collecting bottles and cans, I’ll always hold my head high.