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Local church partners with Northwest University to help Hispanic students complete their college degrees

Posted at 7:56 AM, Dec 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-02 08:15:10-05

CLEVELAND — Refine Church in Cleveland is partnering with Northwest University to help student persevere to get degrees they might never have otherwise completed.

A stalled attempt to get a bachelor's degree left Yanel Gonzalez in a tough spot.

"I didn't have the self-esteem academically to continue," said Gonzalez.

Without a degree, she couldn't get the right credentials to run her church in Orville.

Gonzalez says not finishing a degree, or never getting started, isn't uncommon in the Hispanic community when getting a job helps pay the bills right away.

Many times, Gonzalez says older generations tell younger ones, "it's not important enough for you to pursue or it's not going to happen fast enough for you to pursue."

Since 1996, the Pew Research Center says fewer Hispanic students are dropping out of high school, but that's still more than their peers. Over the same time, more Hispanics are enrolling in college, but they still trail White and Asian peers.

"What is going on with the Hispanic culture," asked Refine Church Pastor Luis Vizcarrondo.

He noticed those statistics and decided to pursue a partnership between his Refine Church and Northwest University to help.

Northwest University handles the academic requirements while the Church mentors the students. Luis calls it "Refine U."

"We just take these students and we say, you can do this and we continuously call them," said Vizcarrondo. "My wife sometimes, they'll go to her because just graduated with her bachelors in English , so they're like, 'Can you read my paper?"

When the same doubts that once kept Gonzalez from getting her degree started creeping back, she says Refine U helped her push past them.

"In no way ever I was left alone," said Gonzalez. "They were just always on top of you, encouraging you along the way because I had a couple of moments when I wanted to quit."

When the degree isn't good enough, Refine Church gives students a chance to get hands-on experience.

"Lets say you're going for your Bachelors for Information and Technology at Northwest University, we're going to put you in the Sound and Tech program at the church," said Vizcarrondo.

"We're working together to strive for more within not just education but with experience to that way when I say that I graduated, I graduated with that experience," said Vizcarrondo.

This story is part of A Better Land , an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here .