As part of our Hispanic Heritage Month celebration from September 15- October 15 we recognize unsung heroes in the Latino community with our Orgullo Hispano, or Hispanic Pride, Award. Sponsored by Southwest Airlines, the Orgullo Hispano Award recognizes Latino adults or young people who have been persistently working to better their immediate community –neighborhood, school, work place, nonprofit or civic organization.

This year’s winners are: Verónica Zavaleta, José Flores, The Latino Achievers Team of Carol Seals and Kathleen Fuchs, and Dr. Michael Spalding and Equal Chance for Education.

Originally from Oaxaca México, Verónica Zavaleta is a mother to three children and a domestic worker, but she and her children find time to work tirelessly for the immigrant community with various organizations including Conexión Américas’ partner Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition as well as Hispanos Triunfadores, Catholic Charities, Iglesia Guadalupe, Consulado de México, Consulado de Guatemala and the Board of Directors of Parents of Metro Schools and active member of the Committee of Migrant Women. She works and local, state and federal level as an activist and voice for migrant women and has been invited to participate events in academic, political and cultural sectors. What is especially notable about Verónica is her work to promote and foster leadership in the community of migrant women. She doesn’t work to promote herself, but to create a community of leaders who can work together for change.

The Parent Outreach Translator at Overton High School, José Flores has worked for Metro Nashville Public Schools for many years and has been an invaluable resource for students, families and teachers. But Jose is not only a translator. He is a social worker, counselor, confidant, greeter, connector and advocate. He is loyal and tremendously professional. José treats every family with tremendous dignity and respect, and is continuously helping students navigate any number of challenges in school. Latino students in the building consider him a true ally. Metro Nashville Public Schools is incredibly lucky to have him serving students and families, and ensure that they achieve the dreams that brought them to this country.

The Latino Achievers Team of Carol Seals and Kathleen Fuchs have made the Latino Achievers program of the YMCA a game-changer for hundreds of Latino students and their families. Thanks to their passion and dedication, going to college is no longer a rare exception, but a visible and viable pathway for students from all backgrounds and nationalities. They have built an organization that families, staff and colleges rely on and a community of Latino students that continues even as these students go on to college.

The final Orgullo Hispano award is the Amigo We Love, given to a supporter of the Latino and immigrant community. This award was given to Dr. Michael Spalding and Equal Chance for Education, a nonprofit that devotes money to academically gifted immigrant students without access to state financial aid. A successful doctor now retired, Dr. Spalding thought it was unacceptable that high-achieving undocumented students are ineligible for in-state tuition, making higher education unattainable and leaving them with few options. His foundation is now providing college tuition, mentoring and other ongoing support to nine students in Tennessee, with plans to expand to meet the growing need.