By Todd Cohen
DURHAM, N.C. — Just a month before Cuban-born Diane Evia-Lanevi was set to begin her senior year at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Fla., the federal Pell Grant she counted on for her tuition was halved as a result of funding cuts by Congress.
So she told the director of admissions, who had employed her in a work-study job since her sophomore year, that she would need to take at least one semester off to earn enough money to return to school because her parents could not afford the tuition.
Instead, he persuaded the college president to make up the difference so she could stay in school.
Soon after they graduated, she and her future husband, Swedish-born Ingemar Lanevi, who also was studying at Flagler on a scholarship, promised each other that if they ever had the chance, they would create a fund to provide scholarships for low-income students.
In 2009, the Durham couple created The Tomorrow Fund at Triangle Community Foundation.
The Tomorrow Fund has raised a total of nearly $470,000 and typically awards 28 to 30 scholarships a year to low-income Hispanic students who live in North Carolina; graduated from a North Carolina high school; are the first generation in their family to continue their education beyond high school; attend a public or private college, university or community college in North Carolina; and maintain a 2.5 grade point average.
And the Fund has made a difference, says Evia-Lanevi, a former journalist who moved to the Triangle in 2003 with her husband, general manager for NetApp, a California-based data-storage firm.
Consider Alberto Negrellos-Aguilera, a Mexican native who before age 11 moved to Wilkesboro with his father, a Baptist preacher and cobbler, and his mother, a homemaker.After graduating from high school in 2008, Negrellos-Aguilera could not afford to go to college, and at the time was an undocumented resident of the U.S., so he went to work for a construction company.
One summer, while installing shingles on the roof of a bank building in Boone, he saw a student from Appalachian State University walk by carrying a calculus textbook for a course he himself had completed while in high school.
“It made me kind of choke back,” he says. “I thought of the potential I could have possibly had if I had gone to college since I had already taken classes that students were just now taking while enrolled in college.”
Negrellos-Aguilera applied to Appalachian State, and was accepted, but he was able to attend only with a scholarship from The Tomorrow Fund, which awards scholarships only if the schools also provide financial support.
Now 24 and a junior majoring in chemistry, Negrellos-Aguilera wants to get a doctorate in chemistry and a medical degree so he can “not just make a physician’s impact” but also do research that “has a larger impact on many people.”
Except for a three-year $90,000 grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, The Tomorrow Fund has raised nearly all its money from individuals, including an event in January at the Chapel Hill Country Club that raised $35,000.
Scholarships for Hispanic students “can completely change the trajectory of their lives, economically, and of their families’ lives,” says Evia-Lanevi, “and ultimately our community.”