This Saturday marks the Noche de Gala, the annual fundraiser for the Hispanic Leadership Coalition of Northeast Indiana. The goal of the group, and this fundraiser, is to help local, underprivileged Latino students afford higher education. Students like Nikko Rivera.
"It's really nice to be recognized you know," said Rivera.
Rivera is working towards a certification in personal training and two associate degrees at Ivy Tech here in Fort Wayne.
"He's not a very verbal kid when it comes to bragging about himself," said Nikko's mother Erin. "So this was a nice surprise."
Nikko is the fourth of five children. His mother says they were prepared to pay for all of their kids to go to college - under her husband broke his neck at work - making her the primary breadwinner.
"When you think about your plans for the future," says Erin. "And how you set up your finances, and what you want for your children, you don't take into account the possible things that might happen."
Last year, after serious cardiac issues, Erin became too ill to work herself. Nikko had to find a job to pay his own bills, including his education.
"He has worked very hard to earn what he's earned," said Erin.
Like many of his friends, Nikko works a job for 20-30 hours a week, to afford his full-time studies, and in his "free time" he participates in a number of clubs on campus.
"It means a lot," says Nikko. "I mean the cash means a lot, but this is kind of a moral boost heading into finals."
A boost Angelica Garcia knows first hand.
"When I started at IPFW," says Garcia. "There were not a lot of minorities, so in many classes I was the only one."
Garcia says not just the cash - but the support system she gained from her scholarship - raised her self-esteem and ultimately her career.
Now, as a recruiter for a staffing company in Fort Wayne, she's on the board of the Coalition, and trying to return the favor.
"These students are going to be our future," said Julie Townsend, HLCNI scholarship chair.
"These are some amazing leaders," said Townsend. "The average student that earned a scholarship this year had an average GPA of 3.4"
Townsend says most recipients pulled off that GPA while working multiple jobs, joining several clubs and representing their families as the first to go to college.
"We're very excited about the things that they're doing in this community," said Townsend. "As well as the things that they're going to be doing."
Nikko joins 12 other recipients, each will get $1,000 towards their local college education.
We asked Nikko where he plans to spend that cash...
"Books," laughed Nikko. "Honestly? Tuition. Nothing too spectacular."
But recognition spectacular enough for a skip in his step, and something that looks an awful lot like pride in his mother's eyes.
"To have a child who can be a go-getter is a true blessing," beamed Erin. "He is a special kid."
The gala is this Saturday, April 22, from 6:30 p.m. to midnight at the Mirro Center. It's open the public, and for $60 you'll get dinner, a silent auction, live Latin music, Latin dancing and dancing lessons.
For more information on how to buy tickets or get involved with the Hispanic Leadership Coalition, e-mail HLCNI06@aol.com or call 260-481-6413.