Socorro Hernandez Bernasconi was born and raised in Guadalupe, Arizona, an impoverished community on the outskirts of Phoenix that is approximately 45 percent Yaqui Indian and 55 percent Latino. A mother of seven children, and one of the first people from Guadalupe to obtain a college degree, Bernasconi says she never considered taking the rewards of her education anywhere but back to Guadalupe.
She became the first Latina counselor in the Tempe school district serving Guadalupe, and later she founded an alternative, tri-lingual school that emphasized the cultural heritage of its students. When the school closed 10 years later for lack of funds, she became the director of Refugio De Colores, a shelter from domestic violence that used traditional cultural practices and values to respond to the needs of minority women and children.
At the shelter she organized an annual month-long art exhibit for victims to display artworks that transformed their anger and fear into self-expression and community education. To expand the shelter, she went door to door through the community with a contractor's list of materials needed.
It was the tragedy of her 19-year-old son's suicide that caused her to change her focus to at-risk teens and gun violence. Bernasconi left her job at the shelter in 1995 to found a community group called GLAAD (Guadalupe Libre Alcohol, Armas & Drogas), urging teenagers to give up their firearms in exchange for rewards. She got local businesses to give computers, bicycles and guitar lessons for the traded-in guns. The exchanged firearms are then given to local welders who turn them into tools and artwork, such as candlesticks for the altar of a Guadalupe church.
In addition to the gun redemption program, Bernasconi has organized vigils at the scenes of violent crimes and instituted a ride-along program for youth and community leaders to accompany policemen on their beats. She also started a college scholarship fund for Guadalupe youths that has raised thousands of dollars.
She was one of four candidates chosen nationally to win a 1996 Petra Award for making a "distinctive contribution to human freedom," and was honored in 1999 as a Peacemaker at the National Conference on Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution. Bernasconi also was one of 30 community leaders from across the nation given a scholarship to attend the Fifth Meditation Retreat for Activists of Color.
Link to Ms. Bernasconi's speech at the 2002 ASU&MLK Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast Celebration
Sarah Renee Lindstrom is an ASU senior from Scottsdale, majoring in Biology and Society and minoring in Women's Studies. She was selected to receive the ASU Student Servant-Leader Award primarily for her work with Camp Sparky, a student organization that works with students at Title I elementary schools. She describes her work:
"About 12 times a year, Camp Sparky members visit elementary schools where over half of each school's population participates in federally funded lunch programs, to provide alternative educational opportunities to fifth graders. We try to engage students in their education through fun, hands-on activities that extend their school curricula. These structured, theme-centered activities are affectionately called 'day camps.'
"I have been involved with Camp Sparky since my first semester of college, when the organization was only a semester old. To participate in the growth of Camp Sparky has been an extremely rewarding experience. I take pride in being the first newsletter editor, the first day camp director to host a field trip, and the first silent auction director in Camp Sparky history, traditions that have continued. The organization thrives because it instills in us the passion to be educational advocates to students that might not consider higher education because of their social inequalities.
"For the past two years, Camp Sparky has worked with Flora Thew Elementary
School and the Tempe Elementary School District to conduct a weekend
camp. This year Erin Torkelson and I discovered that students struggle with the transition from fifth grade at Flora Thew Elementary School to sixth grade at Connolly Middle School. One teacher believes they have difficulty for three reasons: (1) the students' minority background, (2) the multiplicity of teachers the students encounter in middle school, and (3) the lack of community support. Erin and I wrote a proposal that was accepted for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Scholar-Citizen grant, Empowerment Through Education: Encouraging Fifth Graders to Succeed in Sixth Grade. We plan to address these problems as the focus of our weekend camp held at the end of May, just before the fifth graders are promoted to sixth grade.
"It is not for purely selfless reasons that I am active in Camp Sparky. I have experienced the satisfaction and delight of watching students grapple with a concept until they finally have an epiphany of understanding. I have had the opportunity to present new information to students and watch them make connections, clarifying a portion of their understanding of the world. Hopefully, I have instilled a passion and a craving for knowledge in at least one of the students I have encountered."