Emily Hernandez, a senior at Culver City High School, chosen valedictorian by her five-member 2023 Neighborhood Youth Association cohort, said it’s not always easy for immigrant parents to get their kids into college.

At my table at tonight’s 40th annual NYA awards benefit at the The Parish of St. Matthew – The Episcopal Church in Pacific Palisades, Emily’s parents sat beaming with pride. Emily and the other graduates — all first-generation high school seniors bound for four-year colleges in the fall — said NYA had been a vital second family, helping with study skills and college applications.

Now in its 117th year, this non-sectarian, Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles-affiliated organization awarded over $86,000 in scholarships tonight to the four graduates and over a dozen others. Among them was Heidi Soriano, a CSU Long Beach junior who received the first annual Applied Medical scholarship award.

As board chair, I was along to offer an opening prayer. Winning the cuteness award were twins Mia and Zoe, first graders at Westminster Elementary School, who opened the program. Presiding with style, offering his usual historical insights, was the association’s longtime president and CEO, Canon Bob Williams. The Rev. Canon Jim Newman and the Rev. Bruce A. Freeman, the St. Matthews’ rector, both stalwart NYA friends, offered greetings. Dinner chair Sarah Newman also fronted the NYA house band.