It is with great pleasure that we announce that Central Valley Scholars has been chosen as one of three winners of the 2021 Westly Prize.


The Westly Foundation awards the prize, which comes with a grant of $40,000, to socially innovative organizations in California which dedicate themselves to ameliorating conditions in their communities. Organizations may apply to the prize if their projects fall into one or more of twelve social categories, including arts, environment, and education.


Additionally, the prize is awarded on the basis of four general judging criteria: significance, novelty, grit, and capacity and sustainability. The applicants who best fulfill these four criteria are then chosen for the Westly Prize.


As stated by the Westly Foundation, “each year the Westly Prize honors the talent, creativity, daring and humanitarian spirit of young innovators with novel solutions to community problems.”


In order to receive the prize, organizations must undergo a rigorous application process. First, they must submit a general application form along with a video explaining their project and its contribution to the bettering of their community.


Upon review of the application, the Westly Foundation then selects eight finalists who proceed to the final round of the application process. This final stage consists of a five-minute demonstration of the organization, its contributions to their respective communities, and their potential for future success. While this stage is usually done in-person, the Westly Foundation had to move this event to Zoom due to the Coronavirus Pandemic.



(Video announcing the eight finalists, along with a synopsis of their respective demonstrations.)


Michael Piña, founder and CEO of Central Valley Scholars, and Leslie Vasquez, the Funding and Finance Director for Central Valley Scholars, represented Central Valley Scholars in this final round of presentations.


Preparing for the Prize demonstration proved challenging, yet rewarding for Piña and Vasquez, who said this is the first time they had to pitch Central Valley Scholars to a panel.


“Applying for the Westly Prize was new territory for both Michael and I,” said Vasquez. “As a new organization, we are not very familiar with grant writing.”


Prior to the demonstration, Piña and Vasquez met frequently via Zoom in order to ensure that the presentation was up to par with both the mission of Central Valley Scholars and the criteria of the Westly Prize Foundation.


“In preparing our presentation we focused quite a bit on capturing the overall message of equity and empowering our students to choose whatever path suits them best,” said Vasquez.


Furthermore, the grant can help advance Central Valley Scholar’s mission even further, as we have already seen large strides in such a short period of time. Notably, our student engagement increased by 781% over a one year period, being that we reached 97 students in 2019 and 837 in 2020. We expect this number to increase significantly within the next year.


“Winning the Westly Prize meant so much to me as the director of finance because we have always seen the need for the types of programs we provide in the Central Valley,” said Vasquez. “After seeing the dramatic increase in our engagement in just a year we know we are very capable of continuing to increase our impact across cities. This funding means more to us, not just for the future of the organization's growth, but because we are able to directly give that money back to the students of the Central Valley, whose potential inspires the work we do every day.”


Piña added that the award will allow Central Valley Scholars to provide more resources to students in the Central Valley in the future, considering the large increase in the organization’s budget.


“This grant is huge for Central Valley Scholars,” said Piña. “Not only does it double our average operating budget, but it opens the organization's networks and opportunities to gain access to more funding. This grant will give us the financial stability to better develop our existing programs, increase student engagement across the Central Valley, and develop new projects to further support Central Valley students.”




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