Rebecca Chavez, this year’s recipient of Molly Hightower scholarship, has “taken advantage of all that UP has to offer”
Rebecca Chavez, a University of Portland senior, barely recalls a time when service was not part of her life.Recipient of this year’s Molly Hightower Endowed Scholarship, Chavez was under the age of 10 when she regularly volunteered with her family at a home for developmental disabled adults. Her job included transporting the home’s residents via wheelchair to Sunday Mass.
“I have been doing service since I could walk,” she added. “My mother is an immigrant, and my father was born to immigrant parents, so my siblings and I grew up with understandings of social justice.”
Chavez, born and raised in Santa Clara, near San Francisco, is majoring in Spanish and social work and minoring in communication studies. She is the third recipient of the Molly Hightower Scholarship. The scholarship was established by the Class of 2010 in memory of Hightower, who died in the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti while volunteering with special-needs orphans.
Chavez said her father was in the seminary until shortly before he was to be ordained a deacon. He decided not to pursue becoming a priest and instead became an educator, where he worked as a teacher, administrator and head of campus ministry at the school Chavez attended, St. Francis High School.
“Being strongly tied to his Salvadorian heritage, my father taught us all about liberation theology and our obligation to stand with those in need, especially the poor,” Chavez said.
Chavez’ list of service activities prior to coming to the University is lengthy. She volunteered for several years at a development center and also at an elementary school and a nursing and rehabilitation center. In the summer of 2008, prior to her senior year at St. Francis High School, she participated in an immersion program in Guarjila, El Salvador, where she could learn more about her family’s history. Her grandfather, originally from El Salvador, had just passed away and the Central American country had just finished 15 years of civil war. It was during that trip that Chavez had been impressed with a community organizer, an El Salvadoran who advocated for local citizens and helped building homes and clinics.
Chavez told her father, at the time, that she wanted to pursue a career similar to that of the community organizer.
Since coming to the University of Portland, Chavez has volunteered extensively and held several leadership positions. She has participated in several plunges sponsored by the Moreau Center for Service and Leadership. In the fall of 2010, she was a teacher assistant and English tutor while studying abroad in Granada, Spain. She has tutored in Spanish at her former high school during summer breaks and in the Portland area.
She volunteered as a math tutor and for Focus the Nation, a nationwide program that works on clean energy issues. She also has volunteered at the Oregon Food Bank and at the Religious Experience with Exceptional People. She also studied abroad in Santiago, Chile last summer.
Among her favorite service activities is as campus volunteer coordinator at St. Andre Bessette Catholic Church, where she has volunteered about eight hours a week for the past two years.
And as if all of those service activities are not enough, Chavez also has danced ballet since she was five, performing in several productions in her hometown of Santa Clara.
But the service work is what drives Chavez.
“The service and leadership opportunities have made my experience here at UP,” she said. “I’ve taken advantage of all that UP has to offer.”