Our Stories

The LIFT Scholarship Launches in 2021 to Celebrate Young Latina Leaders

by Brianna Chu

Marshall parent Katrina Ortega is no stranger to creating a scholarship with the Pasadena Educational Foundation. Last year, she and her husband Martin established the Hopes and Dreams Scholarship, letting African American students in the Pasadena Unified School District community know that their aspirations were supported. Now, she has returned with friends to help start a new scholarship, “Latinas Inspired for Tomorrow” (LIFT). The scholarship will support at least one young Latina leader from Blair High School, Marshall High School, Muir High School, and Pasadena High School.

Especially after the year we’ve had, we want to support you in your academic endeavors; we want you to know as Latinas we’re behind you and that you have a group of women that believe in you.Katrina Ortega

Mrs. Ortega heard that a previous PEF scholarship awarding scholarships to Latinx students, the Community Organization for Pasadena Advancement (of Education), was going to be discontinued as the sponsors were retiring. In light of this news, she decided she wanted to pick up the torch and carry the scholarship on in their honor, calling up a group of her friends and asking if they’d be interested in helping to sponsor a scholarship for deserving women in their community.

Especially after seeing the devastating impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the educational opportunities for young women of color, LIFT’s founding members—television writer-producer Katrina Ortega, DEI consultant, leadership coach and trainer Carolina Caro, television writer-producer Davah Avena Donis, PUSD instructional coach Gina Sorensen Hernandez, and realtor Sylvia Vega—moved to launch the fund.

Mrs. Ortega received scholarships herself during college; and regardless of their amount, what had always struck her was the significance of that scholarship as a vote of confidence in her capabilities from a complete stranger. Each scholarship felt meaningful to her: a demonstration of support for her journey and the recognition of her skill.

I want them to know that they have an advocate, and somebody in their corner, and somebody that’s cheering for them. You know? That they are not alone.” —Davah Avena Donis

Ms. Caro, who also attended the scholarship ceremony, wanted to recognize the shared experiences they may have, such as growing up only speaking Spanish at home, and navigating the school and college system without her parents’ experiences to help guide her, similar to Mrs. Ortega, who was also a first generation college student. All the LIFT founders present offered their support, asking the students to feel free to contact them if they ever have questions about school or career options or just wanted someone to talk to.

The scholarship will be awarded annually to Latina students who demonstrate a commitment to furthering their education and the potential to excel in college or by enrolling in a trade.

If you would like to help the scholarship support even more young leaders in the coming years, please donate here.

The inaugural recipients of the LIFT Scholarship are:

Emily Condon | Marshall High School

Marshall graduate Emily will be attending Pasadena Community College this fall, majoring in Kinesiology. Her interest in becoming a physical therapist began in her sophomore year of high school, when she injured her knee, cutting her soccer season short that year. As she recovered, she needed to attend physical therapy, and the experience brought her attention to that career. She appreciated how supportive her physical therapist was, not just aiding her healing process but also helping to keep her motivated when she was discouraged.

Emily was a member of the Marshall soccer team her freshman year and played for a local organization during her sophomore year until she injured her knee. Her junior year, she served as a regional referee for the American Youth Soccer Organization. From her freshman to junior years, Emily volunteered at Longfellow Elementary, where she attended elementary school herself. She was a kindergarten instructional aide, a math assistance coach for a group of fourth to fifth graders, and volunteered at the library, too.

Leslie Galindo-Rodriguez | Muir High School

“Obviously, not everybody has an opportunity like this, so I want to thank you all for the extra help and support.” —Leslie Galindo-Rodriguez

John Muir High graduate Leslie will be attending Pasadena Community College in the fall, majoring in Biology. She plans to transfer to UC San Diego.

Leslie participated in girls’ soccer at Muir from her freshman to junior years. While she did not play this past year due to the pandemic, she did play the final games of the season all her previous years. On campus, she was involved in many committees, including Shadow Day and the Special Olympics, as well as many fundraising events, such as Rose Bowl fundraisers, for school clubs.

Sarah Muqri | Pasadena High School 

“I never thought I’d be getting a scholarship…this is a great blessing. I can’t thank you enough.” —Sarah Muqri

Pasadena High School graduate Sarah will be attending UC Riverside this fall. She currently plans to major in Plant Biology as she has been interested in Environmental Science in the past, but she is also considering a career in the medical field. Helping to tend her family’s garden cultivated her interest in environmental science. During high school, she interned at two local hospitals, getting hands-on experience and even interacting with patients.

Sarah played on the varsity girls’ soccer team all four years of high school, and has been playing soccer at the American Youth Soccer Organization since she was five. On campus, she was a member of the National Hispanic Honors Society, the Puente Club, and the Green Club, for which she helped plant trees on campus.

Guendi Tolentino | Blair High School

Guendi has been a Blair student since middle school. She will be attending UC Riverside in the fall, majoring in Biology. She was always interested in the procedures every time she visited the dentist, so she plans on continuing her studies to eventually become an orthodontist herself.

On campus, Guendi was a member of the Latinos Student Union (LSU), a student club that discusses and celebrates Latino culture and leadership. She volunteered to help set up events and assemblies for LSU her freshman through junior years. Outside of school, she tutored two of her close relatives, helping them with their homework, especially in math. During her freshman and sophomore years, she served as a mentor for Thrive Learning Lab’s summer program for children between the ages of 5-10.

Congratulations to Emily, Leslie, Sarah, and Guendi from all of us at PEF—we’re excited to see what you’ll accomplish next!

PEF has distributed nearly $80,000 in the past few years in scholarships to graduating seniors on behalf of individuals, organizations, and foundations. Scholarships can be specific to a field of study such as STEM or art, needs-based, or for academic achievements.


Brianna Chu | Digital Storyteller

Brianna Chu was born and raised in Pasadena, California, only leaving her hometown to travel across the Atlantic Ocean to the University of St Andrews in Scotland, where she earned her Master of Arts degree in International Relations and Psychology. Upon returning to the States, she began sharing stories of local restauranteurs and their food for the Pasadena Independent. She now also holds the role of Digital Storyteller for the Pasadena Educational Foundation.