The 2017 Bay Area Gardeners Scholarship Foundation scholarship recipients with Founder Catalino Tapia, center.
The 2017 Bay Area Gardeners Scholarship Foundation scholarship recipients with founder Catalino Tapia, center.

How a dream turned into ‘life changing’ scholarships

Karla Hernandez Navarro and other scholarship recipients have been able to attend college thanks to the Bay Area Gardeners Scholarship Foundation — a nonprofit that started with one man’s dream.

September 12, 2017

Karla Hernandez Navarro never dreamed she’d be able to go to college. Even after traveling to a school in a city an hour from her home in Pénjamo, Guanajuato, Mexico, in order to continue her education, and graduating from high school with a 4.0 GPA, she still didn’t think she was good enough.

Today, though, she is a sophomore at Dominican University of California in San Rafael, California, and majoring in business administration. Hernandez Navarro said she is able to afford college and stay motivated because of the financial — and emotional — support she has received from the Bay Area Gardeners Scholarship Foundation.

The nonprofit provides $2,000 renewable scholarships to students in the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara, California, who have financial need, give back to their communities, and have performed well academically. Many of the students are the first in their families to pursue a college degree.

“That scholarship has been the most life-changing scholarship I’ve ever gotten,” Hernandez Navarro said. “It goes beyond the monetary value. The people at the Bay Area Gardeners Scholarship Foundation are like family to me.”

Fighting for her education

In the area where Hernandez Navarro grew up, people often stop going to school after the eighth grade to get married and start a family or work on a ranch, she said. When Hernandez Navarro decided to continue her education, she traveled an hour each way to attend a city school where she stood out and was harassed, not only for liking school, but for doing well.

After her friend was physically hurt by other students at the school, Hernandez Navarro decided not to return. Paralyzing pain all over her body prompted her to move to South San Francisco, California, where her father lived, and there she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Hernandez Navarro acclimated and did well in high school, but as a senior, she still didn’t consider college an option. She feared her background would limit her opportunities. When asked by her school counselor about her future plans, Hernandez Navarro told him she wasn’t good enough for college. Her counselor made her promise she would apply, and offered to help her look for financial resources. That’s when he found the Bay Area Gardeners Scholarship Foundation.

Karla Hernandez Navarro has received two scholarships from the Bay Area Gardeners Scholarship Foundation.
Karla Hernandez Navarro has received two scholarships from the Bay Area Gardeners Scholarship Foundation.

‘A dream has become a reality’

The foundation was started by Catalino Tapia, who came to the U.S. from Mexico with $6 and a sixth-grade education. When his son graduated from Berkeley Law at the University of California, Berkeley — something Tapia could’ve never imagined — he realized he didn’t see many other Latino families at graduation. He decided he wanted to do something to help.

“It’s not fair that kids who have potential, but don’t have economic support, go to high school and that’s it,” Tapia said. “To me, every kid should have an opportunity to obtain a college degree.”

With the help of donations from the clients of his successful gardening business, he started the Bay Area Gardeners Scholarship Foundation. Initially awarding five scholarships in 2006, the foundation has since awarded more than 200.

“What started with a dream has become a reality,” Tapia said. “I feel very happy and very proud.”

Tapia said sponsors like Wells Fargo have helped the nonprofit increase the number of scholarships it awards. Since 2008, Wells Fargo has provided $153,250 in grants and event support. In 2017, Wells Fargo awarded the foundation $30,000. Mario Diaz, community relations consultant for Wells Fargo in San Francisco, is the foundation’s board president.

“When I met Catalino, I was so impressed with his purpose for creating the Bay Area Gardeners Scholarship Foundation that I knew right away this is the organization I want to volunteer with,” Diaz said. “Through BAGSF we are able to give light to students like Karla.”

Giving back to the community

The foundation is unique in that it provides more than just financial support to its recipients — it also provides a community. Hernandez Navarro said she has a close relationship with Tapia and others from the foundation.

“There are times when I feel like I shouldn’t be here,” Hernandez Navarro said. “I know I can just pick up the phone and call Catalino, and he makes me feel better. He calls me every two weeks. Everyone at the Bay Area Gardeners Scholarship Foundation has been there for me unconditionally. I’m at the school I’m at and continue to strive for my dreams because they continue to motivate me.”

Hernandez Navarro’s dream is to one day work for or start her own nonprofit that helps other young women accomplish their dreams of obtaining higher education. She said she is not the only one of the foundation’s scholarship recipients who plans to give back and help others after college. “Students from all over are studying different subjects and have a dream to make an impact on their community,” she said. “The foundation has had such an impact on us that we want to help our community.”

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