Cristo Vazquez, 20, spent most of his childhood battling asthma and leukemia. But with hard work and help from mentors, he was able to complete honors classes while undergoing treatment and he graduated from Plano West High School. 

The first-generation college student is now studying biochemistry at the University of Texas at Dallas with the hope of going to medical school and becoming a pediatric oncologist to treat children with cancer. 

Vazquez is one of several underprivileged students getting the guidance they need from the Hendrick Scholarship Foundation to help them navigate classes. This semester, the foundation is taking on an added role in helping students return to campus in the middle of a pandemic.

“The Hendrick Foundation opened a lot of doors for me,” says Vazquez, who is in a program referred to him by a mentor that allows him to virtually observe doctors at work in the emergency room or elsewhere. “It means to never be alone in the walk, or really vertical climb, through college. They truly do seem to have the students’ best interest at heart.”

cristo vazquez hendrick scholarship
Hendrick scholar cristo vasquez / courtesy of hendrick scholarship foundation

Figuring out back to school is challenging in regular times and lately, it’s been anything but regular. Coach volunteers have been helping the students and their families be less anxious about what’s happening.

As students move out of dorms or transition to online learning during the pandemic, the Hendrick foundation has also moved to web-based communications and workshops. Success coaches stay in touch with students and continue to connect them to community resources as needed.

“This organization is very unique – most scholarship organizations just hand out checks. We provide multi-layer support to mentor our students throughout their entire college journey,” says Nancy Humphrey, the foundation’s executive director. “Our Success Coaches are individuals in the community who volunteer their time, because they know they are helping students who have the grit, determination, and ability to succeed, but didn’t get to start out on a level playing field.  Our Success Coaches are heroes.”

Now more than ever, nonprofits need consistent funding, because those that they serve are in great need. On Thursday, Sept. 17, the Hendrick Scholarship Foundation is participating in Communities Foundation of Texas’ North Texas Giving Day, a one-day online giving extravaganza for the region.

The Hendrick Scholarship Foundation, established in 1991 by a group of community businessmen and leaders, provides multi-year college scholarships to students who have persevered to overcome adversity. 

In Texas, only 25 percent of students attain some sort of secondary credential within six years of graduating high school. The percentage for at-risk students is only 12 percent, according to the Hendrick Scholarship Foundation website.

In addition to providing scholarships, the foundation provides ongoing guidance throughout the college experience as well as workshops, and one-on-one coaching to help students, many of whom are from economically-disadvantaged backgrounds and may be the first in their family to attend college.

The Hendrick Foundation has had great success in student graduations due to volunteers working behind the scenes, offering the students tutoring, academic and financial advising, and serving as cheerleaders for their overall academic success.

Named after Dr. H. Wayne Hendrick, who served as the  superintendent of the Plano school district before retiring in 1991, the foundation has awarded over $1 million dollars in scholarships to over 300 students.

abigail torbatian hendrick scholarship
Hendrick scholar abigail torbatian / courtesy of hendrick scholarsship foundation

Since most of Hendrick scholars are the first in their families to go to college, they have not had the benefit of hearing from family members about what to expect from the college experience.

“I am unable to ask my parents about professors, dropping classes, and transferring universities due to my parents having no formal higher education,” says Abigail Torbatian, 20, a graduate of Plano West High School whose parents are refugees due to religious persecution from Iran. 

The Hendrick scholar attended UT-Austin before transferring to Southern Methodist University where she is working on a degree in psychology.

“The (scholarship) money is important, but because of my family members don’t have any formal education here in America it becomes difficult when I have to ask questions, like, should I withdraw from a class now? Or how do I talk to this professor? Both of my parents just go blank,” she says. “Having someone to speak to, financial help through scholarship awards, and access to workshops/tutoring bolster me to further my education.”

She says she is trying to keep herself as positive as possible even as COVID-19 canceled two internships. 

“I’m a little worried,” she says, adding that her foundation mentor is still helping her find other opportunities. “But I understand that it’s just because of the environment happening today and it’s not me. I have to keep reminding myself.”

Alfredo Galvan, 22, whose parents are Mexican immigrants with grade-school educations, says the Hendrick foundation has been helping him navigate college for four years, guiding him through important decisions and encouraging him to stay focused on his goals. 

The Plano East High School graduate attended Collin College before transferring to UTD where he expects to graduate in fall 2021 with a degree in electrical engineering.

“I just couldn’t ask my parents, so Hendrick mentors helped me find the paperwork that I needed for financial help. And when I was struggling in like physics and math, Hendrick tutors helped me,” Galvan says. “Getting a degree was something that seemed like a far-fetched dream four years ago but thanks to the Hendrick foundation it’s becoming a reality.”

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Annette Nevins

Annette Bernhard Nevins is a Plano-based award-winning journalist who specializes in breaking news and features. She has held staff positions at several Texas newspapers, including The Dallas Morning News,...