NEW WINDSOR - The numbers might have dipped from those of previous Latin Galas, but the passion and commitment to the cause remained unwavered.
Saturday night, at the Meadowbrook Lodge, the 14th Annual Latin Gala once again took place. The event, staged by R & M Promotions and Entertainment along with the aid of several area sponsors, aims to foster Latin American community while raising scholarship funds for deserving high school seniors. Thanks to the generous contributions of area businesses and other altruistic individuals, an average of eight Latino students, excelling at both academics and community service, have been recognized each year since 1999. They not only receive needed monies for their collegiate careers, but attend a scholarship dinner in their honor. This year, however, is in jeopardy of seeing the number of recipients dip.
The cause of the drop is not rooted in interest - just last year close to 60 seniors applied - but in the struggling economy. As a result, this year’s gala registered a much lower attendance than previous years. That statistic concerns Eddie Ramirez, CEO of R & M Productions and Entertainment, who along with his wife Norma created the scholarship fund after noting the desperate need.
"I have been really, really frustrated this year by the limited help we have received for these scholarships," said Ramirez following the gala, which raised about $300. "We are the only type of organization in this area that tries to help our Latin youth by giving them scholarships, which we hope will ultimately assist them in becoming leaders and mentors in their communities."
Despite the low overall turnout, those who attended were filled with energy and optimism. After all, this is a cause they feel cannot afford to be overlooked.
Support chiefly comes from the sponsors Ramirez has managed to join his cause, including WellCare, El Sol (a Hudson Valley Spanish publication) and Verizon Wireless. Another of those companies is Ulster Savings, who has been attending the gala for the last nine years.
"This event is very important because it’s a way to gather with fellow Latinos," pointed out Carlos Campuzano, Marketing Coordinator at Ulster Savings Bank. "It’s a type of celebration that wraps up the year and supports a very good cause."
Another area sponsor of the gala is the Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union, who has been behind the scholarship initiative for the past three years. Tania Gonzalez, a bilingual recruiter for the company, was all smiles on Saturday night as she enjoyed the bands, dancing, food and socializing provided by the formal evening event.
"As a bilingual recruiter, I always wanted to be involved in the Latino community; I met Eddie six years ago, and ever since then, I try to follow all of his events, such as the Latin Festivals, as it is so important to do so," said Gonzalez. "This event, in particular, is so important because it targets our community and really helps with networking, especially in this type of setting." She added, "I’m very proud to be involved with it, not only as a recruiter, but as a Latino."
In addition to long-term supporters, new ones also turned out. An entire table of members from the Latino Democratic Committee of Orange County could be found enjoying themselves, as they listened to the band Tri Cristal during cocktail hour.
One of those members was Sonia Ayala, the Chairperson for the group. Pointing to how her group had not attended the gala in the past due to the opportunity not presenting itself, Ayala was quick to cite her approval of the evening’s purposes.
"We need to support each other in the Latin community," said Ayala. "The more people the better; there is strength in numbers, especially when it comes to a good cause." She added, "We are now going to make it a point to come each year in the future as well as support bringing others."
Ramirez is hoping that enthusiasm spreads, as he sees the need remaining dire. However, it’s one that can be remedied with some effort.
"I understand times are hard, but at the same time, we are not asking for a lot - we never have," said Ramirez. "If you think about it, if we get each of the around 3,000 people that attend our Latin Festivals to donate just one dollar, that’s five scholarships of $500 for kids. That can make a huge difference in their lives and those of others because they become leaders and inspire others in the Latin community to do the same."
Applications for the upcoming scholarships will be available in January and can be found at http://www.rmpromotions.com.
"Our sponsors are few due to the economy," noted Ramirez. "Community support is desperately needed and appreciated to keep the program alive."