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Darden Foundation Grants $150,000 For Low-Income College Students

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 10, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- The Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF), the leading provider of college scholarships to Hispanics across the country, and the Darden Restaurants, Inc. Foundation (Darden Foundation) have launched a new program to expand scholarship opportunities and academic support for low-income college students. Through a $150,000 grant from the Darden Foundation, 40 students from Dallas, Los Angeles and Miami were named recipients of the HSF/Darden Restaurants, Inc. Foundation Scholarship and Academic Support Program (HSF/Darden scholarship).

The $150,000 grant is the first partnership between HSF and the Darden Foundation. It builds on the Darden Foundation's Recipe for Success initiative, which aims to enable and empower youth to pave their own path to success by providing them with the information and tools necessary to pursue their dreams of higher education. The Darden Foundation is the charitable arm of Darden Restaurants, Inc., which is the world's largest full-service restaurant company. Darden operates more than 2,000 Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52, The Capital Grille, Eddie V's and Yard House restaurant locations across North America.

The forty students were selected from HSF's qualified pool of applicants. Each student will receive a $2,500 scholarship plus academic support through the first year of college via self-assessment and academic planning tools, support groups, and student advisors. By addressing the financial and cultural barriers that keep many low-income students from earning a college degree, the new partnership between HSF and the Darden Foundation will provide these students with financial resources and tools to achieve their full potential through education.

"HSF is grateful to the Darden Foundation for its support in helping us send more students to college," says Frank D. Alvarez, President and CEO of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. "This important grant demonstrates Darden's commitment to providing access to postsecondary education to underserved students, and helps us achieve our mission to help place a college degree in every household across America."

"One of the ways our company makes a meaningful social impact is by empowering young people to pursue a postsecondary education," said Clarence Otis, chairman and CEO of Darden Restaurants, Inc. "By partnering with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, we aim to create opportunities for these students to realize their full potential."

One student realizing his potential is Juan Trujillo, an HSF/Darden scholarship recipient and mechanical engineering major at Florida International University. Leaving his family behind in his native Venezuela, Juan came to the U.S. with dreams of becoming an astronaut. He excelled at Coral Reef Senior High School in Miami and now plans a career in aerospace engineering. Since the tenth grade, Juan has been a soccer coach for young kids at Coral Reef Elementary School and has become a role model for others.

Cristina Lopez, another scholarship recipient from Los Angeles, studies at Pomona College. Her story of hardship is common among immigrant Latino families. Cristina used to work with her mother delivering flyers in the streets, but her economic and family hardships never deterred her from taking AP courses in high school and preparing herself for a college education. "I know that with an education, I will someday be able to make a change," she says. "I want to serve the Hispanic community as well as others who need it in whatever way possible. I want to be a Hispanic influencing others to reach for the best – as I have been motivated."

In Richardson, Texas, Zoar Guadarrama, yet another scholarship recipient begins her college journey as a freshman at The University of Texas at Dallas. The National Honor Society member was raised by a single mom and comes from a long line of proud Mexican women. She gives of her time by teaching dance at her local church as well as volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club. "Service marks the path to happiness because in meeting the needs of others we meet our desire to vibrate with accomplishment," says Zoar. "Serving the dance ministry at my church enlightened me with empathy as well as built in the instructor in me I never knew existed." Zoar is majoring in biochemistry and plans to become a pediatrician.

As the cost of college increases and other resources diminish, the funding for scholarship programs becomes a critical factor in making college education a reality for promising Latino students. According to an MPR study, students supported by HSF scholarships spent less time at outside jobs than most students, allowing them more time to focus on their academic responsibilities.

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