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Back to School with Youth Awards | Mariano Stephens

Hispanic Heritage Foundation

HHF’s Youth Awards are back! Entering its 19th year, the Youth Awards honor Latino high school seniors who excel in the classroom and community in various categories. Meet Mariano Stephens, third year student at Yale University, and our National Youth Awards Community Service Recipient.

Mariano currently serves as the Communication and Consent Educator and Student Liason at Yale Greenberg World Fellows. He talked to us about his introduction to HHF, tips for other students who are applying to the program this year and what HHF means to him! This is what Mariano said.

How did you first hear about HHF’s Youth Awards?

My school’s website had different applications to apply to but it really wasn’t until my mom sent me the application that really pushed me to apply. She helped me fill it out, along with going over the essay answers I submitted. HHF’s Youth Awards was the perfect opportunity to help guide me when I was applying to colleges as well.

You attended our Youth Awards Regional and National ceremonies, how were those experiences?

They were both amazing experiences. The National ceremony took place in San Juan, Puerto Rico the year I won.  I was so excited because I was going to have the chance to go to Puerto Rico  and experience the island, “La Isla del Encanto.” It really lived up to the name, I had a great, great time.

How did the Youth Awards grant help further your education, to be more specific, what did you use the grant on?

Textbooks are really expensive in college, much more than I had ever imagined, so being able to have that made me worry less when I chose classes and helped me know that I had financial support.

When you first received that call that you won the Youth Awards grant, how did you feel? Who was the first person you told?

I was definitely caught off guard when I found out that I won the National Youth Award!   I was actually outside the movie theater for the Hunger Games, I had to walk out and take a call from my parents. They told me that I had won, I was so stunned and excited to have the chance to attend the national ceremony in Puerto Rico.

Would you recommend other students to apply to this grant?

Of course! You don’t have anything to lose, you can only gain from applying to this scholarship. It’s such an incredible experience and you meet all of these successful Latinos who are driven to excel in their field. It’s such a great vibe being at the awards. It continues to impact my life and has made my transition into college that much easier knowing I have people out there rooting for me and I have all the support that I need.

What advice/tips would you give others that are applying to this year’s Youth Awards?

I definitely would say to play to your strengths, and take some time to reflect on the things you have done throughout your high school experience, and the things you want to do. From there, just really try your best to craft the best application you can, it’s not really about numbers, or grades, or service hours, its more about impact. Make sure to show that you are in fact the best individual to be chosen for this award and how you have given back to the community.

What does HHF’s Youth Awards mean to you?

I would describe it as empowerment. You have these people set out to believe in you, but I think beyond that you really feel that you are on the right track. In the sense that people recognize the things that you have done and then you reflect on your own successes. This feeling of empowerment carries on with you knowing that you are a representation of the category/ field you have won. Also, since we are underrepresented in a lot of these elite institutions, it’s good to know that there are not only people that are going to financially support you, but emotionally support you as well. There will be many challenges after you graduate high school, and winning this award made my transition to college that much easier. HHF is an extended family, I never felt competitive with the other Youth Awardees in any way, we are all trying to help each other and we’re constantly thinking of each other, and that has definitely stayed with me beyond winning this scholarship.

Youth Awards categories include Business & Entrepreneurship, Community Service, Education, Healthcare & Science, Media & Entertainment, Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM).

The Youth Awards is a grant that can help further your education, all while becoming a part of something bigger, the Latinos on Fast Track (LOFT) Network! If you are interested in learning about our Youth Awards program and or have any questions on the application, contact Andres at and Brenda at 

Apply to the Youth Awards here! 

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