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The College Scholarship Leadership Access Program has responded to COVID-19 by transforming our programming to meet these trying times. 

A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, CSLAP hosts college access workshops at local high schools and provides near-peer mentorship for graduating students. 

In addition to ensuring a smooth transition to college for students, we are uplifting Rio Grande Valley communities by addressing directly the precarious living conditions of low-income high school and college students.

In the week before Hidalgo County issued its first shelter-at-home order, dozens of CSLAP alumni were forced to return home after their universities instituted online instruction. Dorm evictions, meal plan cancellations, forced travel, and healthcare disruptions became major issues overnight. Thirteen college students reached out to me for help; I responded by donating funds and laptops, assisting families with healthcare enrollment, and directing people to resources like internet connection and mental health services.

The following week, the CSLAP board created CSLAP Emergency Aid to provide funds to college students, high school seniors, and community members in Hidalgo County. In April, we distributed over $1,000 to applicants in need, from homeless students to a cancer patient.

We have shifted our April and May events to online platforms. For example, our UTRGV financial aid and budgeting workshop became a Zoom seminar. Afterward, we adapted the event into a short presentation and recorded it so all students could benefit. Surprisingly, we have benefited by not being restrained to a single classroom; our CSLAP alumni have been recording presentations on diverse topics like civic engagement from their homes, and even I have begun filming a series of videos on writing college admissions essays in the hopes of reaching new audiences online through YouTube.

Since mid-March, we have been receiving uplifting news about high school seniors getting accepted into their dream universities. We have conducted over a dozen Zoom and Skype calls to help students navigate their options, ranging from University of Pennsylvania to University of Texas at Austin. In addition, we have connected the seniors to current students or alumni from these universities and from the RGV. These near-peer mentorship sessions online have not only become the norm, but they are also bringing RGV natives together from across the country.

Throughout March and April, we revised and edited over forty essays for various scholarships or summer programs. Our professional essay reviewers have continued their standard online work throughout the pandemic, which has led to a CSLAP student earning the coveted Gates Scholarship.

Aurelio Montemayor, family engagement coordinator at IDRA, connected us with the local nonprofit ARISE to offer parents bilingual assistance with online instructional tools like Google Classroom and software like Zoom. Our mentors are providing technical support to families who simply want their children to complete their assignments and continue their education uninterrupted.

Our scholarship committee has awarded over $2,000 in scholarships. The recipients, who are all Pell Grant-eligible high school seniors, will receive funds in May to cover college transition costs like transportation and technology.

CSLAP began as a short summer program, then it became an academic year course for high school students, and now it is a burgeoning nonprofit. We hope to continue nourishing the spirit of altruism in our community by helping students and their families in any way we can. You can visit our website at cslapofficial.com.


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