Empowering Hispanic Success

Ford Fund marks 30 years of supporting Hispanic communities throughout the Americas

The observance of Hispanic Heritage Month provides an opportunity to recognize the contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans to our country's history, heritage and culture. This year, it also marked more than 30 years of Ford Fund's support of Hispanic communities across the U.S. and throughout Latin America. And as the celebrations have now come to a close, Ford Fund is reinforcing its ongoing commitment to providing Hispanics with vital resources and access to opportunities in the areas of education, leadership development and the arts.

Two visitors preview 2011 American Sabor exhibition with vintage images beside similar contemporary image
Visitors preview 2011 American Sabor exhibition.

The story of Hispanics in the Americas is a long one, filled with tradition, innovation and inspiration. Already the largest minority group in the United States, Hispanics make up 18.1 percent of the population, and that number continues to grow. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by the year 2060, Hispanics will comprise 28.6 percent of the total population.

Latinos, of course, are not homogenous. Made up of different races and nationalities, and with vastly different histories, Hispanics represent diverse points of view. One thing Latinos have in common is the challenges they face.

Traditionally, Hispanics in the U.S. have fared worse than their counterparts when it comes to socioeconomic and educational issues. A study by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) and UnidosUS from late 2016 showed that during the previous decade, the Latino community has made important gains in several key areas of well-being—especially on measures of educational attainment, health insurance coverage, teenage births and youth incarceration. But Hispanic youth continue to lag behind non-Hispanic youth on many key social and economic indicators. The report noted that the number of low-income Latino youth could potentially increase by 45 percent—from 11 million to nearly 16 million by 2050.

Joe Ávila, community development manager, U.S. and Latin America, Ford Motor Company Fund, headshot
Joe Ávila

One way to address this disparity is to ensure that Hispanics have the same educational opportunities to help them be part of a well-qualified workforce. For generations, Ford Fund has been committed to identifying opportunities to help through programs that support education and the overall well-being of the Hispanic community.

"A child who receives opportunities is more capable of providing for others later," said Joe Ávila, community development manager, U.S. and Latin America, Ford Motor Company Fund. "It's the child who found a teacher who believed in him or her and who got the right educational resources; it is the student who got to do hands-on work and network in a big city; it is the budding artist who received the gift of artistic expression in the form of new instruments, who will be best prepared to succeed."

Driving dreams for education and opportunity

In the 2000 census, the percentage of Hispanics age 25 and older with a high school diploma or more was 52.4 percent, compared to 85.5 percent for non-Hispanic whites. In addition, the percentage of Hispanics with a bachelor's degree or more was 10.4 percent, compared to 27 percent of non-Hispanic whites. While a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center shows that Latino degree attainment has increased significantly, both on a national and statewide scale over the last 5 years, there is still a need to accelerate Latinos' degree attainment to close equity gaps.

That's why Ford Fund is committed to providing educational programs, scholarships, community grants, mentoring, literacy and other educational opportunities to help keep Hispanics on the right track.

Launched in 2012, Ford Driving Dreams was designed to help youth graduate on time and pursue higher education. This initiative supports students throughout their entire academic career, both inside and outside the classroom. The program has delivered more than $10 million in programs and equipped more than 200,000 students across the U.S., Puerto Rico and Latin America with tools to help fuel their academic and career journeys. These educational initiatives empower people to envision and lead change in their communities or in their own lives.

Panamanian students sitting at FDD Tour assembly
2015 Ford Driving Dreams Tour expanded to Panama students.

For elementary school students, Ford Driving Dreams collaborates with First Book — a nonprofit that provides access to literacy programs. This literacy initiative delivers new books and reading events to inspire a child's love of reading and discover a passion for learning. For middle and high school students, Ford Driving Dreams provides scholarship and entrepreneurship funding, leadership and networking programs, career-building activities, college preparedness tools and motivational activities – all designed to build confidence and inspire students.

Through the various initiatives, students gain leadership skills and make helpful connections. As Marvin Rojas Javier, a scholarship recipient notes, "... the events and networking provide a great value." To learn more about Marvin, meet other 2019 Ford Driving Dreams scholarship recipients and learn how the scholarships help them at school and beyond, click here.

Providing real-life experience for real-world success

Funding for education is important, but of course, so is real-life experience. There is nothing like hands-on training and internships doing "real work" to prepare students for success. Internships play a vital role in giving students the insights, skills and connections that potentially open doors to solid careers.

For more than a decade, Ford Fund has collaborated with the Smithsonian Institution's Young Ambassadors (YAP) program to support Hispanics in their educational and career-related goals. A part of the Smithsonian Latino Center, YAP focuses on graduating high school seniors, helping them to become the next generation of community-conscious Latino leaders in the arts, sciences and humanities.

Group of Smithsonian Young Professionals posing for photo
Smithsonian Institution's Young Ambassadors 2018 class.

YAP program participants and alumni also participate in community outreach events that include mentor days at local high schools and summer story time for young children at libraries. These events serve to foster Latino success in K-12 and higher education by establishing community peer-to-peer mentors and role models discussing educational opportunities.

To meet some of these Young Scholars, learn about their personal experiences and the impact the program has had on them, click here.

Keeping the arts alive

Art is not just a form of entertainment, but a great skill that can enhance other areas of learning. In early 2019, the Brookings Institution released a report from a study in Houston reflecting the impact art education has on a child’s overall well-being. The research shows that a substantial increase in arts educational experiences can have a remarkable impact on students' academic, social and emotional outcomes.

"Creativity and artistic expression enrich lives and inspire innovation," said Ávila. "Communities which support and provide access to the arts are stronger for it."

Joe Avila in the center of group of Latin Grammys in the School musicians in Miami
Joe Ávila, Olga Tañόn, Pamela Silva Conde, and Manolo Díaz at the Latin GRAMMY® In The Schools event in Hialeah, Florida.

Yet despite the many reasons to celebrate the arts, as noted in the Brookings Institution report, the proportion of students receiving arts education is shrinking drastically.

The Ford family has always believed in the power of art and appreciated its ability to enrich people's lives. From Edsel Ford's partnership – and friendship – with Mexican artist Diego Rivera to create the murals at the Detroit Institute of Art, to the many arts and culture exhibits that Ford has sponsored at the Smithsonian, such as Retratos: 2,000 Years of Latin American Portraits, Our Journeys/Our Stories: Portraits of Latino Achievement, and American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music, Ford's contributions to Hispanic arts are many.

Ford has partnered with the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts (NHFA) for over 20 years. NHFA increases access for Hispanic artists and professionals, while fostering the emergence of new Hispanic talent. NHFA has demonstrated their commitment to ensuring inclusion and representation of Latinos in the arts, music, film and entertainment industries by offering graduate scholarships to students at prominent colleges and universities.

Music is a key component of Hispanic culture, from the storytelling of generations through folk music to celebrating a rite of passage at a festive quinceañera. In recent decades, traditional Hispanic music has made its way to the mainstream, through popular bilingual artists such as Selena and Jennifer Lopez. In April 2019, Nielsen predicted an increase in 20 million more potential core fans of Latin music over the next decade.

Dancer at Latin Grammy in The Schools program
Latin GRAMMY in The Schools program

Through a collaboration with The Latin GRAMMY Cultural Foundation®, Ford Fund has been a proud supporter of the Latin GRAMMY® in The Schools program which connects music students with professionals in the Latin music industry and supports music departments of educational institutions that have financial limitations. More than 7,000 students have benefited by the Latin GRAMMY® In The Schools program with donations of more than $400,000 worth of musical instruments to schools in U. S. cities such as Aransas Pass, Texas; Dallas; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Miami and New York; in Puerto Rico, as well as internationally in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Mexico.

It takes more than supporting education, however, to keep the arts alive. Another important factor is to ensure the public has access to the arts. For more than 150 years, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., has been one of the premier educational resources through its world-class museums, which visitors can tour for free. Its newest addition – a Latino Gallery scheduled to open in 2021 – will be the first dedicated museum space on the National Mall celebrating the U.S. Latino experience, presenting stories of discovery, identity, migration, innovation, entrepreneurship and success to millions of people.

The inaugural exhibition, "Making Home: Latino Stories of Community and Belonging," reveals how Latinos have shaped the nation since before its founding. As a major donor, Ford also is supporting this effort to preserve and present this cultural experience for future generations.

Answering the call when disaster strikes

Providing resources and access to opportunities in the areas of education, leadership development and the arts is the primary focus of Ford's decades-long commitment to Hispanic communities. However, there is another critical area of support that Ford Fund provides – helping communities rebuild in the wake of natural disasters.

Thirty-eight Ford vehicles in front of Houston Food Bank for area nonprofits
Ford employees, Houston-area Ford dealers and local nonprofits gathered at Houston Food Bank in the fall of 2018 for a Texas Is Family community event that marked the donation of 38 Ford vehicles to eight organizations in the state.

Natural disasters impact millions of people every year and those affected don't always have an equal ability to respond. People who are economically disadvantaged often lack mobility and places to flee to when catastrophes strike, which can undermine their ability to survive a natural disaster and bounce back in the years that follow.

"The mission of the Ford Fund is to strengthen communities and help make people's lives better," said Ávila, "and nowhere is the need more urgent than in recovery efforts during the hours, days and weeks following a natural disaster."

Following a particularly intense season of natural disasters in 2017, Ford Fund, Ford employees and Ford dealers partnered with local nonprofits to provide needed relief and assistance to people in Florida, Texas, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

Ford donated 38 vehicles to eight Houston-area nonprofits to support ongoing rebuilding efforts and to serve as first responder vehicles for future emergencies. In Florida, Ford extended relief programs to help victims of Hurricane Irma rebuild their lives. In Mexico, after a powerful earthquake struck, Ford matched employee donations and Ford's Mexico & Dealers Civic Committee provided support toward rebuilding Ford Schools – including training teachers and students with earthquake drills.

In response to the effects of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico, Ford partnered with local nonprofit organizations to connect families affected with a range of services – from basic needs such as food, water, clothing and transportation, to longer-term recovery assistance through medical services, educational grants and skills development. To learn more about Ford's extensive efforts to support the people of Puerto Rico, click here.

2018 Hurricane Maria aftermath with standing man surrounded by walls and blue tarp as roof
2018 Hurricane Maria devastation.

Looking to the future, Ford Fund remains committed to strengthening Hispanic communities throughout the U.S. and Latin America.

"Helping communities in need is part of our history as a company," Ávila said. "At Ford, innovation in manufacturing vehicles goes hand-in-hand with providing access to opportunities and resources that empower people to reach their full potential. Companies have a responsibility to do their share in preparing the workforce of the future. Ford Fund embraces that responsibility and continues to look for opportunities to help open doors for Hispanics to succeed."