By CATHERINE RISLING     8/28/2023

Growing up, Lilly Ruiz spent countless hours in religion classes and sitting with friends in the back pews at St. Norbert Church in Orange. She celebrated all of her sacraments at the church where her mom helped introduce Masses in Spanish.

When she graduated from Villa Park High School in 2005 and was accepted to UCLA, her

community was there to help. The Hispanic Ministry had just started the Guadalupana Scholarship fund to support graduating high school seniors in their academic pursuits.

That year, Lilly was one of the very first recipients.

“I grew up at St. Norbert, it’s been a second home for my family,” said Lilly, 35, who returned to Orange after earning her master’s degree in special education at Hunter College in New York. “When I was awarded the scholarship, I felt that my community believed in me. It gave me huge motivation to make everyone proud and to return to serve my community once I could.”

Today, Lilly works at Santa Margarita High School as a teacher and coordinator of the Options Program, an inclusionary curriculum tailored to students with developmental and intellectual disabilities. She credits the St. Norbert community with fueling her drive to make a difference.

“I was inspired to get degrees to show the community that participating makes a big impact,” Lilly said. “Now, 10, 15 years later, I haven’t forgotten that.”

The Guadalupana Scholarships were initially given to four graduating seniors at $500 each. This year, the Hispanic Ministry was able to award five $1,000 scholarships—three of these to St. Norbert Catholic School alumni—thanks to proceeds from an annual raffle and the parish’s La Fiesta dinner and dance.

Scholarship recipient and SNCS alumnus Joseph Castaneda, who graduated from Mater Dei High School this past spring, is a first-generation college student. He’s heading to California State University San Marcos in the fall to study computer programming and will live in the dorms.

He said St. Norbert helped introduce him to the Catholic perspective of community service. In high school, Joseph volunteered regularly at the Southwest Community Center in Santa Ana, helping with food distribution, outreach and toy drives. He hopes that by earning a degree, he will inspire others.

“I know I am able to lead the next generation by example,” Joseph said. “It’s important to give back to the community if you’re succeeding.”

St. Norbert parishioner Nancy de Dios jumped in two years ago as co-chair of the Guadalupana Scholarships. She knows, first-hand, the importance of higher education and the impact community can have along the way.

“Growing up in Mexico, both of my parents never made it past elementary school,” she shared. “I was able to have an opportunity my parents didn’t have. We want to support kids in our parish with these goals.”

Nancy said scholarships can help cover a cost that may keep a college student from taking a class or even keep them in school that semester.

Scholarships are open to all graduating seniors in the St. Norbert community who have maintained a 2.5 GPA with plans to attend a university, college or trade school full-time. Applicants must also complete a personal essay that addresses why they want to go to college. Scholarships are awarded based on academic excellence, financial need, first-generation college student status or community service involvement within St. Norbert parish.

Ideally, an increase in donations will lead to additional scholarships that encourage more students to keep going.

“For many kids, college is the next step; in the Hispanic community, working has been the next step,” added de Dios. “The scholarships show that the church community is supporting you.”

To support Guadalupana Scholarships, please email [email protected] or call (714) 637-4360.