Casandra Ruanova-Cordero grew up on the border cities of San Diego, California, and Tijuana, Mexico, attending Catholic school her entire life. In middle school, Ruanova-Cordero and her fellow classmates would teach underprivileged kids in Tijuana about the religion.

“In Mexico, there’s a drastic difference between different parts of the city, and that is something that touched me since I was a little kid,” Ruanova-Cordero says. Later on, while attending college in Monterrey, Mexico, she helped raise scholarship funds for others. “I always knew education was a very, very important way to impact lives and give children better futures.”

Now, she’s helping adolescents obtain religion-based education as chair of the Saint Ann Latino Contemporary Auction (SALCAA). In it’s second year, SALCAA supports the Saint Ann Latino Scholarship Fund, allowing underprivileged Latino children to attend Saint Ann Catholic School in Naples.

The silent art auction, held at Artis—Naples, features some 15 Latino artists each year, many of whom are based in Southwest Florida. The evening also features cultural music and authentic Latin-American cuisine from local vendors.

“It’s a great opportunity to celebrate Latino heritage here in our community,” especially since many event attendees are not Latino themselves, Ruanova-Cordero says.

Ruanova-Cordero, who also volunteers at Saint Ann, helped create SALCAA after an anonymous donor established the scholarship fund. She formed a committee, forged a partnership with the Cultural and Performing Arts Center in Naples, and helped the event raise $20,000 in its first year. The scholarship, so far, has benefitted 17 children.

“The idea is to continue to grow this fund and get more students into the school,” Ruanova-Cordero says. “The children that benefit from this fund would most likely not be in one of the best public schools [otherwise], and it’s not just the Catholic education [of Saint Ann], but the education itself that we know makes a difference in their lives.”

Once scholarship recipients are enrolled in Saint Ann, Ruanova-Cordero serves as a liaison between the school and families of awardees, often translating for parents who do not speak English.

“I kind of feel like it’s my obligation at this point in my life to help the Latino population wherever I’m at,” Ruanova-Cordero says. When it comes to aiding Latino youth in Southwest Florida, she adds: “I just feel like this is where I need to be, because I understand and feel both cultures.”

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