Outstanding Volunteer - Catalina Ponce
Though part of Catalina’s family is from the Philippines, she was born in the US and grew up in the embrace of her mother’s Colombian heritage. The formative experiences of her life have a deep
impact on her sense of individuality, her pro-Hispanic mindset, and the passion that drives her to mentor young students. Growing up in Fairfax, VA, she loved math and science, and excelled so much, that her mother was able to enroll her in CAHSEE – a summer program to help Hispanic students succeed in the STEM fields. She took college level courses taught by Hispanic teachers from across the US. She got through college on a variety of scholarships and landed a job at GE, which moved her to Greenville in 2015. Her first experience with Hispanic Alliance was when the GE Hispanic Forum assisted Hispanic students at Carolina High with college and scholarship applications. Seeing the confidence grow in the students lit a fire still burning strong – to give Hispanic students the same information and passion for their education as she received as a child. She became a devoted volunteer with the HA Education team attending every lunch and learn for Hispanic students, and sharing her story of overcoming her barriers with support and persistence. Her most meaningful experience at HA however, was attending the recent Families Belong Together rally, where she heard the stories from local DACA students for the first time. It was a difficult realization that they were denied the resources that she enjoyed as a citizen. Since then she has learned as much as she can from DACA students, and advocated for their right to education and career opportunities. Catalina is now the Vice Chair of the Education Team, and as she approaches a new season of Lunch and Learn visits, she is looking for new faces, and fresh stories of how to succeed as a Hispanic professional. Her message to her peers is that they can turn a student’s life around just by sharing their journey. For Catalina, Hispanic Heritage is a “party.” She expresses it with words like “spice,” “flavor,” “music,” and “together.” She is loud and proud about being a “Latina engineer”, and a self-described “oddball.” When she was young, her family would use any excuse to celebrate, enjoy being together, and support each other. Her dream for her Hispanic community, is to use community social gatherings as a platform to strengthen bonds, encourage collaboration, and raise the visibility and power of the Hispanic community.