A new scholarship for Albany County students was inspired by student activists and aims to support graduates who are making a difference in their community.
Sonrisa Gonzales, who graduated from Laramie High School last weekend, was awarded the first Be the Change Scholarship, sponsored by Albany County Democrats. Gonzales plans to use the $1,000 scholarship as she continues her education at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne next fall.
Lindsay Stoffers, who led the scholarship committee, said she got the idea to begin fundraising for the scholarship in March of last year after attending an event called March for Our Lives. The event was organized by LHS students to show support for changes to gun laws.
“I was really inspired seeing all these kids come out and really advocate for their needs and their safety,” she said.
After talking with fellow members of Albany County Democrats and receiving support from the party, she hosted a bake sale at Freedom Has a Birthday.
“I woke up that morning thinking I’ll be happy with whatever comes in,” she said. “At the end of the day, the community had given over $800.”
The fundraising gained momentum with the help of additional donations, and a committee was formed that developed an application asking students about themselves and what they would change in their community.
“The idea was essentially to get those ideas out and to be a voice to listen to all these kids’ ideas and changes,” Stoffers said. “A lot of them were really, really powerful.”
The committee was drawn to Gonzales’ breadth of service and the importance of higher education to her and her family.
“She has the opportunity to create change in her family system as well as do something great for our community as a whole,” Stoffers said.
LHS English teacher Nicol Bondurant described Gonzales as an active, involved member of the Laramie community.
“As much as she will benefit from furthering her education at LCCC, LCCC will also benefit from her focus, amiable nature, drive, intelligence and strength of character,” Bondurant said.
Gonzales listed participation in Girls State and National Honor Society among her top accomplishments, along with volunteer work with Interfaith-Good Samaritan, Hydrate the Helpers and Laramie Soup Kitchen. Her motivation, she said, comes from a simple desire to lend a hand.
“You see many people out there who don’t have a lot, and that’s not really their choice,” she said. “Anything I can do to help them, I’m going to do it.”
Her participation in volleyball and basketball during high school was cut short by an arm injury, but she just turned her energy elsewhere.
“It was all right because it meant I got to work more with other things that I really enjoyed,” she said.
Gonzales was the first in her family to graduate from high school and will be the first to pursue higher education. She thanked her family, including her mother, Stacey Gonzales, and brother, Colton Carline, 11, for their support.
“I’m very grateful for what she does,” she said of her mother. “She supports me through everything and has had my back since day one.”
Gonzales plans to receive training to be an ultrasound technician and then perhaps move back to Laramie. She said the scholarship will be an important part of her funding next year, and she was very excited to learn she had received it.
“I had a missed heartbeat for a second,” she said.
Gonzales urged other high school students to stay focused on their academics and get involved in anything and everything that interests them.
“Don’t be afraid to go out in the community and make a difference,” she said.
The Be the Change Scholarship is open to any high school senior who plans to further his or her education by any means, including university, community college or trade school. To make a donation, visit the group’s GoFundMe campaign or send an email to BetheChange.AlbanyCoDems@gmail.com.