Wednesday, May 18, 2011

GW Catholic lottery winners on the Today Show

Last month, we welcomed back to GW our good friends, Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros. They were visiting GW for a week and came to our Sunday night student Mass and then food after Mass. I mentioned them at Mass as being good friends of the Newman Center who have “invested much in all of you”. What I was referring to is the sizable donation they have given to the Newman Center and the tremendous interest they show in what we are doing here.

Gil and Jacki won $266 million in last year’s California state lottery...! They are both Catholic and Gil is an alumnus of GW; they have given over $1 million to GW University already. They made it clear when they won that they will be giving much to the Church and to education. This is exactly what they have done.

They were on NBC’s Today Show the other day to announce their latest act of generosity: providing scholarships totaling $1 million over the next five years to assist high school students who wouldn’t otherwise go to college. We respect our friends to no end because of their openness to God’s grace. In the midst of enormous worldly temptation, they are choosing good...great good! They are choosing to let God do His good work....amazing work. They are inspiring examples to all of us.

To view the video of their Today show interview, please click on today’s title.

$266M lotto winners give back to hometown kids

They’re devoting part of jackpot to scholarships for students in working-class community

By Scott Stump contributor
updated 5/17/2011 11:27:33 AM ET

Jacki and Gilbert Cisneros may now live in a big house in Newport Beach, but they have certainly not forgotten the working-class Latino neighborhood that has been part of their family for generations.

After all, Pico Rivera, Calif., is not only the place where the couple traces its roots, but also where Gilbert purchased the winning Mega Millions lottery ticket that netted $266 million a year ago, making national headlines. The couple could have moved away and spent their millions on themselves, but they want to give something back to a town that has given them so much.

Thus, alongside Hispanic Scholarship Fund president Frank Alvarez, the wealthy couple announced on TODAY Tuesday that they are providing substantial scholarship money to benefit students from Pico Rivera. With a gift to the Hispanic Scholarship Fund that will run into seven figures over the next five years, the couple want to give students at the town’s only high school, El Rancho High School, the financial assistance to achieve their dreams of attending college.

‘A family commitment’

“Kind of reflecting back on my own life and when I went to college, my parents, I knew, would support me in whatever decision I would do, but there was no push towards college,’’ Gilbert Cisneros told TODAY’s Ann Curry. “There was no college fund. I kind of knew that I was pretty much going to have to do it on my own. Luckily for me I was able to receive a scholarship that enabled me to go on to college.

“Now that we have the means to do some good, we kind of want to give other students that same opportunity.’’

Jacki Cisneros, whose grandfather is a former mayor of Pico Rivera, told Curry that they hope to assist hundreds and possibly thousands of students over the years by working with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. The Cisneros’ gift aims to provide 50 scholarships of $2,500 each to students from El Rancho starting in 2012 while also contributing to community outreach programs designed to encourage post-secondary learning.

Pico Rivera also will be at the front of the nationwide “Generation First Degree’’ campaign by the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, which is pushing for a college degree in every home for Hispanic students.

Finally, the Frank Terrazas Legacy Scholarship Program will be created in honor of Jacki’s grandfather as an endowment that will provide scholarships to future El Rancho students.

“Going to college and getting your college education is a family commitment,’’ Gilbert Cisneros told Curry. “Everybody has to be involved. You can’t just put it in neutral and hope your kid goes in the right direction.

“We want to get the family support in there, so there’s a program in there to help families understand the importance of college, and what it would mean.’’

Dreaming big

All told, the Cisneros’ scholarship gift totals more than $1.25 million over the next five years.

“I knew that getting a college degree in every household in Pico Rivera, which is the goal of these wonderful people, is not going to only change the lives of the student, but the entire family and the generations to come, so I was elated,’’ Alvarez told Curry.

El Rancho High School has a graduation rate of more than 90 percent, but many students do not have the financial means to continue their education.

“We dream big,’’ El Rancho senior Daniella Lopez told NBC News. “We dream of schools like NYU and big schools that we want to go to. Sometimes we can achieve that because of our intelligence, but we’re hindered by [the fact] that we don’t have money to go to it.’’

The Cisneroses want to ensure that students like Lopez and other seniors are allowed to earn that college degree and not wonder what might have been, like 1994 graduate Sergio Silva.

“I lacked resources and family support,’’ Silva, who did not attend college, told NBC News. “I didn’t have the proper guidance, I think. I was three classes away from transferring, and I just stopped going.’’

While the population of El Rancho is largely Hispanic, the scholarship fund is open to all students, not just Hispanic ones.

The Cisneros couple made national headlines last May when Gilbert purchased 10 Mega Millions tickets, including the winner, while picking up dinner at L & L Hawaiian BBQ in Pico Rivera. Their blue-collar roots immediately showed, as Jacki continued to go to work at her job at KNBC in Los Angeles despite the life-changing financial windfall.

It was the eighth-highest total ever won in Mega Millions history, and it came thanks to Gil’s unwillingness to pay for parking to get Mexican food downtown. He opted for L & L Hawaiian BBQ instead, and ended up purchasing the winning ticket.

The odds of buying that ticket were 175,711,536 to 1.

Thanks to Cisneros and his wife, the odds of seniors at El Rancho High School moving on to college just dramatically increased.

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