Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

If you belong to any local business or social organizations, you’re familiar with the practice of honoring students by giving out scholarships at this time of year. Almost every group raises money to support education for local students.

Some groups identify students to be honored based on a student’s volunteer time with that organization. Others accept applications from all students and evaluate their achievements to select scholarship recipients. Yet others require students seeking scholarships to show their understanding of or support for the group’s interests.

The Palm Springs chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), for example, required applicants to write an essay detailing their support for women’s rights and their intention to use their continuing education to further that support. When I led that group in the early 1990s, we instituted the Barbara Wade Salm Scholarship, endowed by a former member, which is currently administered through College of the Desert.

Last week, I learned that the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) planned to hold a meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rancho Mirage. The featured speaker was attorney Bardis Vakili, from the ACLU of Southern California, who proudly announced the ACLU is opening an office in San Bernardino to provide more coverage in the Inland Empire on issues like voting rights, police conduct and immigration.

The meeting also marked the ACLU’s end-of-season scholarship awards to local students. While the discussion of the ACLU’s efforts to protect voting rights was interesting and informative, what impressed me most was hearing the backgrounds and aspirations of the four students honored.

Robert Rippetoe is graduating from Xavier College Preparatory High School. Xavier, a private, nonprofit school, has tuition and fees which generally are beyond the reach of many local residents. However, their stated goal is that “no qualified student will be denied admission, or once enrolled, be compelled to leave because of verifiable financial need.”

Xavier senior Rippetoe has been involved beyond academics in the literary magazine and the Junior State of America. He is on the JV swimming team and the varsity water polo team. He has also been president of the Robotics Team. What more can one say about a student who claims calculus and statistics are the subjects he enjoys? Rippetoe is enrolled at Colorado School of Mines and wants to pursue engineering, specializing in earth sciences. Perhaps he’ll bring his skills back to save the Salton Sea!

Rebecca Farhi is graduating from Cathedral City High School, part of the Palm Springs Unified School District. She is a California Scholarship Federation Sealbearer, due to her scholastic achievements. Farhi is an athlete in cross country and track; is active in YMCA’s youth and government program; and participates in CCHS’ gay-straight alliance. She is planning to begin college here at home at COD and then hopes to transfer to the University of California at Berkeley for a degree in environmental or political science. Maybe both.

Diana Espinoza is from Indio High School and graduating in the Top 10 of her class of more than 400 students. Academics are not her only claim to fame: Espinoza is also a top athlete, one of the best distance runners in the Coachella Valley. She has helped Indio’s cross-country team win the Desert Valley League finals during the past two track seasons. Espinoza is also a musician (oboe and flute) and active in the Associated Student Body. She participates in the Indio Public Library’s story time, and plans to attend the University of California at Santa Barbara, majoring in library science and education.

Bridgid Elliott-Pope is heading to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles to pursue her passion for art, majoring in visual communications, after she graduates from Palm Desert High School. Born in the Coachella Valley, Elliott-Pope says she was influenced to love reading by her parents—both teachers. She has traveled around the United States and recently spent three weeks in Europe. “I try to be loving in every aspect of my life,” she says, “even in the smallest of endeavors.”

These students demonstrate the qualities we hope all high school graduates will embody: seriousness about their studies, involvement in extracurricular activities and ambition. Although they have very different backgrounds and interests, they all express the hope to make a difference, not only for themselves and their families, but also for their communities.

One of the first scholarships given by Palm Springs NOW was to Fran Ferguson, who returned to school to complete her education after a divorce, while raising two children. Ferguson subsequently spent five years as executive director of Shelter From the Storm, the local shelter for battered women and their children, and then moved on to be the eastern region manager for the Riverside County Office on Aging for 15 years prior to her retirement in Palm Desert. NOW took great pride in Ferguson’s use of her education to make a difference locally.

With all the talk of failures in our educational system, it’s easy to forget how many students are out there plugging away to make a better life for themselves, their families and their communities. It’s also easy to forget the educators who are helping them, motivating them, preparing them.

We need to continue to support all of the organizations that give out scholarships to local students to help them to attain their dreams. In the words of local ACLU president Brad Oliver, upon congratulating this year’s ACLU scholarship recipients: “We want you to use your education to make a difference, and we want you to come back home.”


Published in Know Your Neighbors

Two summers ago, I was feeling anxious, nervous and scared. But it was more than the usual sadness about another summer coming to an end; I was about to begin my freshman year at a fancy prep school outside my community—not to mention my comfort zone.

I have lived in the city of Coachella my entire life. The great majority of the population is Hispanic, and many families who live here don’t have access to adequate living conditions, health care or even healthy food. In the near vicinity are thousands of acres of farmland where many people, including my own grandfather, work every day in order to support their families.

Up until last year, I attended elementary and middle school at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, just outside of Coachella, in the city of Indio. Even though OLPH is a Catholic school, things like exotic family vacations or fancy computers never mattered to me and my classmates. Catching the latest episode of our favorite television shows was far more important.

But in eighth-grade, my friends and I started talking about high school. I decided I really wanted to go to Xavier College Preparatory in Palm Desert, a private Jesuit school; however, I did not have high hopes. Seeing my parents struggle with tuition at OLPH, attending Xavier did not seem realistic. Yet I filled out my application and anxiously waited every day for a response. I was thrilled when I was accepted and awarded financial aid.

During the summer of 2011, there was one thing that never left my mind: Why am I leaving the Latino Eastern Coachella Valley for the glitz and glamour of Palm Desert? Palm Desert is an affluent community, and I feared I would never fit in.

During my first weeks of school, I realized my fears were coming true: I did not fit in. I never had most of the things I wanted in life, so I figured everyone must be just like me. I’ve only been out of state once in my entire life, and here, kids were talking about their lavish summer trips to the East Coast and Europe. I had only seen MacBooks and other Apple products on television, and here, kids had all of them at their fingertips.

But I was smart enough to realize that their MacBooks and European trips did not make my new classmates better than me. David Allan Coe once said, “All men are created equal; it is only men themselves who place themselves above equality.”

And then, I came across an opportunity that was only for youth from the Eastern Coachella Valley: I was offered a chance to be a reporter for a news website (which now also has a brand-new print version). I would be able to cover events in my community and improve my writing and photography skills. I filled out my application and was eventually hired by Coachella Unincorporated in January 2012.

The reporting I knew from television is different than the reporting I am doing now. Contrary to popular belief, journalism is not only flash photography and-breaking news headlines. For us, it is being the voice of the voiceless, and shedding light on the struggles that our community goes through every day. Writing for change is what I consider myself to be doing, hoping that someone will listen to our voices and that together we can resolve these issues for the betterment of my community.

In the end, I finished my freshman year with outstanding grades and was elected to student government. I am now a sophomore, a locker higher and a year wiser. I plan to continue my writing career for as long as I can. I plan to further my education in college as well.

In the end, I found the answer I was looking for. I leave my rural community every morning for Xavier College Prep, in the wealthy community of Palm Desert, for one thing: opportunity. An opportunity to better myself in this world. An opportunity to leave my mark in this world. An opportunity to change my life, the lives of others, and to change the community I call home for the better.

Coachella Unincorporated is a youth media startup in the East Coachella Valley, funded by the Building Healthy Communities Initiative of the California Endowment and operated by New America Media in San Francisco. The purpose is to report on issues in the community that can bring about change. “Coachella Unincorporated” refers to the region youth journalists cover, but also to the unincorporated communities of the Eastern Valley with the idea to “incorporate” the East Valley into the mainstream Coachella Valley mindset. For more information, visit

Published in Community Voices