Atascadero, CA– The Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t stopped the children of Central Coast farmworkers from fulfilling their dreams of receiving a college education. Vineyard Team, a nonprofit based in Atascadero, California with over 300 vineyard and winery members, awards scholarships to students whose parents work for member wineries via their annual scholarship program. This year, Vineyard Team awarded $21,500 in scholarships to twelve undergraduate students entering or already attending college.
“Last year the Vineyard Team Educational Scholarship helped me greatly,” says Maria Contreras, a 2019 scholarship recipient and current student at Cuesta College. “It took pressure off my shoulders and off my parents’ as well.” Contreras used the scholarship to help pay for school materials and fees which allowed her to work fewer hours and focus more on school.
Nearly all of the Vineyard Team Scholarship recipients are first-generation college students. “I come from a family of five and I’m the first in my family to attend college,” says Contreras in her scholarship application. For many of the applicants, their dream to attend college and reach their career goals is not for themselves but for their families and communities.
“It is in my highest hopes to return to the Central Coast and devote my planning skills to the community that has invested the most in my educational experience,” says Aaron Hernandez, a 2020 scholarship recipient studying Urban and Regional planning at Cal Poly Pomona.
The students who received a Vineyard Team Scholarship award all spent time volunteering in addition to school and work. Jorge Flores is a prime example. A King City high school student who will be attending college this fall, Flores is an avid participant in volunteer groups from Mee Memorial Hospital to the Soledad State Prison. He enjoys giving back to his community. In March he was recognized as a DAR Good Citizen for his school thanks to his academic success and volunteering over 300 hours. He explains what drives him: “I take part in all that I do with a purpose: to become a better version of myself on a day-to-day basis.” Always striving for personal development, Jorge hopes the scholarship will allow him to focus on school and internships so he can reach his goal to become a registered nurse and, after continued education, a medical doctor.
The road to college does not come easy for many of these students. Born in Mexico, Esteban Garcia’s family moved to California when he was a young child. He entered elementary school at the age of 8 without being able to speak English. School wasn’t easy for Garcia as he was bullied due to the color of his skin. He never considered education a priority until a very close Uncle became sick. Garcia remembers it clearly: “I saw him laying down in the hospital bed. He was so pale and fragile. All I could remember him saying [was] ‘Go and get your education mijo’.” Moved by his uncle’s request, he enrolled in college soon after his uncle passed. Since then, Garcia has put all of his effort into getting a college education so he can work in the wine industry and set a good example for his children.
Also, born in Mexico, Aline Garcia understands the importance of a college education. As a member of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that protects eligible immigrant youth from deportation, Garcia does not qualify for federal assistance so finding funding for college presents an exceptional challenge. She is currently attending Allan Hancock College with plans to transfer to a four-year university such as California State Channel Islands. Her hope is to return to her home town of Santa Maria to become an elementary school teacher.
Students like Aline Garcia face many obstacles to achieving a full college education. A majority of the students come from families with a household income less than $40,000 annually and finding funding to pay for tuition, housing, meals and necessities can be quite difficult. A challenge for several 2020 recipients was finding funding for school while dealing with medical bills for themselves or family members. Many of these students would not be able to attend college without the financial support of scholarships.
“Thanks to the generous donation from Vineyard Team winery members, we were fortunate to be able to offer so many scholarships during a time when funding is scarce due to the pandemic,” says Kris Beal, Executive Director of Vineyard Team.
Scholarships are offered each spring and donations are accepted year-round. For more information about the program, visit www.VineyardTeam.org/scholarship.
About Vineyard Team: Arising from growers’ interest to educate and guide themselves towards sustainable winegrowing practices, the Vineyard Team has become an internationally recognized leader in the sustainability movement since 1994.
Not only has the organization influenced sustainability initiatives within the winegrowing community, Vineyard Team programs have influenced efforts in other crops as well. Recognized by governmental, environmental, and community organizations, the Vineyard Team’s sustainable winegrowing programs are always leading the way in innovation. Visit www.VineyardTeam.org for more information.