By Angel Eggerson – Contributor, Jasmine Maharisi – News Editor
More than 500 people attended the 11th annual Heartland Latino Leadership Conference and Expo last weekend, an event aimed to strengthen the community through education, communication and engagement.
The conference was held over a two-day period at the Embassy Suites in LaVista, the Kroc Center and the First National Bank Tower Winter Garden downtown. The event included prominent speakers such as NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez, business leader and entrepreneur Deborah Rosado Shaw and motivational speaker Gabe Salazar.
Eleven $1,000 scholarships were awarded to high school students and four to college students. Scholarships were given to Latino youth and adults pursuing post-secondary education careers in Nebraska.
Alegent Health, Careerlink.com, Hy-Vee and Woodmen of the World sponsored the scholarships. HLLC has awarded a total of $130,000 in scholarships since its inception.
Julissa Lara, vice president of the HLLC board, said organizers wanted to reach as many high school and college students as possible this year. She was pleased with the turnout – of the 500 attendees, 130 were students.
The event kicked off with a job fair at the Kroc Center located at 2825 Y Street on Nov. 11. More than 25 companies participated, giving on-site interviews and even hiring students on the spot in some cases. The job fair was a new addition to this year’s schedule.
The conference began on Nov. 12 with breakfast and a morning speaker, Rosado Shaw, who spoke about the struggles of being part of a minority, overcoming barriers through education and taking risks.
The keynote speaker was Gabe Salazar, a motivational speaker who made the crowd laugh while touching on serious topics . His message was geared towards high school and college students, telling them to “dream big.”
Workshops and exhibitions were also offered for all attendees.
“This is by far the largest turnout we’ve had so far,” Lara said.
A special concert featuring Latino International jazz sensation Tito Puente, Jr., followed the gala.
The future for the conference looks bright as it continues to expand to include greater part of the Midwest.
Board President Athena Ramos said she encouraged all attendees to “reflect on where we have been and where we are going, to envision our collective future” for Latinos and non-Latinos alike.