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California Strawberry Commission awards scholarships to Watsonville youth

Posted: Thursday, May 16th, 2013

WATSONVILLE The California Strawberry Commission, representing more than 400 growers and 100 shippers and processors of strawberries in the state, will be awarding 117 students from the Watsonville area with scholarships for the upcoming school year at a special ceremony at the Kennedy Youth Center today.

Twenty-five of the students are seniors graduating from Pajaro Valley High School and Watsonville High School, while the remaining are those currently attending a university, community college or trade school.

A total of 234 students from throughout the state's strawberry growing regions will be awarded a combined total of $200,510 for the 2013-2014 school year.

To qualify, students must have at least one parent employed as a strawberry farm worker for the past two consecutive seasons and have a minimum 2.0 GPA.

Carolyn O'Donnell, communications director for the Strawberry Commission, said the scholarship amounts vary according to student achievement and they aim to support as many students as possible throughout their college career.

"There are no caps," said O'Donnell. Students are able to apply each year they are enrolled in an eligible institution.

Because of this, the number of scholarships awarded has grown each year, she said.

Yuliana Ramirez is set to graduate from the University of San Francisco later this week with a degree in politics. She was raised in Castroville, and both her parents have worked in the strawberry fields for more than 20 years.

"Since they came to the U.S. they've worked as farmworkers," said Ramirez. "They can't provide the help they would've liked so I really appreciated the scholarship."

Ramirez received a scholarship from the California Strawberry Commission for every year she was at the university, which she applied to the approximately $50,000 annual cost of tuition, room, board and fees.

"We place a value on supporting as many eligible students as possible," said Neil Nagata, scholarship committee chair for the California Strawberry Commission in a press release. "We believe it is critical to not just provide financial support but also to send an ongoing, positive signal to these students that we are committed to them over the long haul."

O'Donnell said the scholarship committee is always moved and inspired by the students as they read a bit of their life story through the selection process and learn what the students' families have gone through to get them to where they are now.

"What I love about this program is many recipients are the first to graduate from high school in their families, let alone college," said O'Donnell. "It also recognizes the hard work their parents have done to give their children a better life."

Now in it's 20th year, the California Strawberry Commission has awarded more than $1.7 million to 1,487 children of California strawberry farm workers.

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