Meet Victor Caceres, A 2023 Scholarship Recipient

Meet Victor Caceres, one of our scholarship recipients. Victor is a graduating high school senior in the state of California that worked hard to renovate and build up his community food pantry. He writes, 

“My community is very much a middle to lower-class community. The people are kind and for the most part helpful. At St. Bridget of Sweden Catholic church, the people at Martha’s Pantry needed help to restore their run-down food bank. The issue I observed was that the pantry was not properly equipped to help the community with the distribution of food and other products to families in need of it. A lack of refrigerators and shelving units left the pantry and its volunteers vulnerable to properly helping out the community. My project aimed to provide the equipment and make a better environment for the pantry through the cleaning, painting, and installation of refrigerators and shelving units to it. Apart from this, my project beautified the facility so it and the St. Bridget community can now enjoy and engage more with the community at large.”

Victor is very involved in his community and really enjoyed being able to give back to those that need it the most. 

“Many people face hunger in the world. Los Angeles is no exception to this. The project’s main purpose was to renovate the rooms and install shelves for the pantry. In the big picture, the project will help the community by providing canned goods & non-perishable items for free to many of the less fortunate in the area. I believe my project will not only benefit the church community at St. Bridgets but many of the people who live in the Van Nuys area, especially the elderly who frequent Martha’s Pantry throughout the year for their goods. More than 200 people rely on the pantry per month and this number totals closer to 400 during the holidays.”  

He set his sights high and worked to make the pantry a usable, happy space for everyone. 

“The project is greatly needed as lately, the pantry has been suffering from a lack of donations. Simultaneously, the state of the building is getting worse. The community engagement needs to increase. Martha’s Pantry is a staple in our community. Although the volunteers are there, the current condition of the pantry impedes the amount of reach the pantry has. With my project, Martha’s Pantry is better than new and has helped over 200 people per month who rely on it for their food. My goal was to equip the pantry with all necessary equipment in the short run & in the long run. This along with the beautification of the pantry will have greater engagement and outreach with the community.”

Victor’s project is inspiring to all those that hear it. His dedication to not only Martha’s Pantry but to the community members that rely on the food pantry is incredible and a story worth sharing! 

Meet Jalen Coleman, Our 2023 Top Scholarship Recipient

Meet our top scholarship recipient, Jalen Coleman. Not only did Jalen receive a $10,000 scholarship towards college tuition, but he also received a $5,000 grant for his organization Outside J’s Sunday Fundays. Jalen saw a need within the parks and rec department within his city and worked hand in hand with them to bring new basketball courts and tournaments to their community. He writes, 

“The game of basketball belongs to everyone. If you have a ball and a hoop, you have a game. Unfortunately, the sport of basketball for kids has been privatized and commercialized into a pay-for-play model, where travel, cost, and fees are required before kids ever get to see the ball go through the basket. This has created a demand for gym space, coaches, players, playing time, and winning which has caused the stakes to rise, and the culture of sports to become hyper-competitive. I seek to return the game to its roots. We invite all skill levels, youth ages, and genders to play at newly refurbished courts for FREE. Outside J allows all who want to hoop, the ability to hoop without the hyper-competitive, money-driven baggage that comes with sports.” 

Jalen worked to inspire many in his community. During a phone interview we held with him he spoke of his passion for the game and for creating an inclusive environment for everyone to be a part of. He commented that his least favorite part was the work it took to take everything down and clean up, but it was always all worth it to watch the entire event come together and see everyone having a good time. Jalen also writes, 

“I am a lover of the game of basketball, and I REALLY like playing pickup basketball at outdoor basketball courts. I realize that in this technology-based, travel sports era, that many youths are not participating in sports in a free-play environment. Travel sports requires money, time, transportation, and fees that eliminates a lot of the youth that need to play the most. I decided to combine my love for sports, and my love for community, by creating Outside J, during the Covid-19 Lockdown. I connected with my city parks and rec department, my local schools and churches, to create a website, and prepare for quarterly events that are FREE for youth in our community.” 

Our team at HonorsGradU has been so impressed with Jalen and his commitment to helping his city for the better. Jalen has more free events he’s working on in the future and plans to attend college in the fall as well. 

Meet Esther Lau and Fiona Lu, 2023 Scholarship Recipients

Meet two of our scholarship recipients, Esther Lau and Fiona Lu. Esther and Fiona live in California and have become advocates for low-income families in need of menstrual products with their project What We All Deserve. Their mission was to give families the ability to purchase menstrual products using SNAP benefits. Both girls come from low-income families that have relied on state services in some capacity, so this bill was very personal and important to them. They write,

“CA’s SB 260, the Menstrual Equity Act of 2023, is What We All Deserve’s first legislative advocacy initiative. If passed, the bill will add $20 in monthly cash assistance for each menstruating CalWORKs recipient. From its ideation to current standing in the CA Legislature, we’ve spearheaded its efforts, gathering support from 12 co-authors, endorsements from the CA Women’s Caucus and Senate Democrats, 13 co-sponsors, and 50+ supporting organizations.”

“Our project has successfully sponsored SB 260 into the California Legislature. SB 260 is currently being voted on in the Senate and has already passed the Senate Human Services, Governmental Organization, and Appropriations committees. Soon, it will head through the Assembly and go through the parallel review process, and eventually be signed into law. We’ve already gained robust legislative support with 12 co-authors across the Senate and Assembly, as well as endorsements from the CA Women’s Caucus and the Senate Democrats Budget Plan. We’ve also rallied strong organizational support with 13 co-sponsors (ex: PERIOD., IGNITE National, URGE) and 50+ supporting organizations (ex: ACLU, NARAL).”

Not only are these girls spending their time working towards passing this legislation, but they’re also involving the community as much as possible, making their project spread and influence as much as possible. 

“What We All Deserve is working to engage the communities most affected by economic inequalities in the fight for economic justice. For example, while recruiting for other youth advocates, we hope to particularly highlight other low-income youth who have directly been affected by social welfare programs and other economic gaps in opportunity. By doing this, we hope to empower underserved communities simultaneously while advocating for progressive economic policy.”

Not only have they worked on SB 260, but they’ve also been actively involved in California’s education policies and they’ve worked on student-written and led policies. 

In an interview held with Fiona and Esther, they both commented on how real imposter syndrome has been during this entire process. They often questioned whether or not they were qualified to do this work. But they both agreed that the hard work pays off when they were able to meet those that the bill would impact and hearing individuals testify why the bill would be beneficial in their state. 

Our team at Honors GradU loved reading more about Esther and Fiona’s work in the community and state. They inspired us by their work and we are honored to have them as our 2023 scholarship recipients.