CHEYENNE – When Ann Redman was growing up in a family of nine in Cheyenne, higher education seemed out of reach.

“Being Hispanic, I was told I couldn’t do things,” said Redman, who is the founder and president of the Hispanic Organization for Progress and Education. “I had a principal who told me I wasn’t good enough.”

Breaking down financial and racial barriers for Cheyenne’s up-and-coming Hispanic youth is one of the reasons Redman started the nonprofit in 1994. In the years since, the organization has raised scholarship money to fulfill its mission of “working for education success for Hispanics at all levels and to increase graduation rates.”

On Friday, HOPE reached a new milestone: Taco John’s awarded the nonprofit $11,124.11 from proceeds earned through the company’s annual Nachos Navidad holiday promotion.

Much of that money will help fund HOPE’s scholarships.

“We’ve had fundraisers before, but have not had the opportunity to raise this much money,” Redman said before accepting the check from Jim Creel, Taco John’s president and chief executive officer. Taco John’s has supported HOPE in the past, but this was the first year the nonprofit was involved in the Nachos Navidad campaign.

Each holiday season, Taco John’s selects a local nonprofit to partner with during the Nachos Navidad promotion. The restaurant chain then donates a portion of the profits from each plate of red-and-green nachos sold, and customers also have the option to round up their total to give more. HOPE’s original goal was to raise $5,000, but high turnout for the fundraiser resulted in an award over twice that amount.

“It really was word of mouth,” Alexis Moralez-Muter, who sits on the HOPE scholarship committee, said about how they got the word out about the Nachos Navidad promotion. She knows firsthand how important having available scholarship money is. It helped her pay for her books and some other expenses when she enrolled at the University of Wyoming in 2011.

“It wouldn’t have been possible without it,” Moralez-Muter said.

Last year, she helped select Laramie County Community College student Andrea Becerra as one of 10 scholarship recipients.

“Being Hispanic, it means a lot to me to have an organization that represents me,” said Becerra, who wants to become a physical therapist. “Especially in Wyoming, where there’s not a lot of Hispanic representation.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 10% of Wyoming’s population identifies as Hispanic. Hispanic students in Wyoming have a four-year high school graduation rate 5% below the statewide average of 82%. In Laramie County School District 1, where the majority of HOPE scholarship recipients are from, Hispanic students have an even lower graduation rate of 73.2%, according to data compiled by the Wyoming Department of Education during the 2018-19 school year.

To be eligible for a HOPE scholarship, applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a Laramie County resident
  • Be a high school senior at a Laramie County high school OR be graduating from Laramie County Community College
  • Be of Hispanic descent
  • Have a grade point average of 2.5 or higher

Students must also write a personal essay and sit for an interview with the selection committee to explain why they should receive the scholarship.

“We’re looking for well-rounded students,” said Redman, noting she likes to see good grades and participation in school activities. “But we’re also willing to take a chance on students who show drive and promise.”

Kathryn Palmer is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s education reporter. She can be reached at kpalmer@

wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3167. Follow her on Twitter at @kathryn

bpalmer.

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