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Latino students striving for better futures

COLUMBUS — Rosangela Godinez didn’t paint a pretty picture of her initial experience at college.

She called it a nightmare situation that nearly caused her to drop out.

The immigration attorney said she faced racism while living in a dorm at the Nebraska college.

“My roommate turned out to be really, really racist, to the point she wouldn’t tolerate my music or my shows or my food,” Godinez said.

She considered leaving school, but instead sought assistance from the college's multicultural affairs office, which helped her get a different roommate.

Godinez shared her story with high school students attending a Latino Youth Summit, hoping it would show them how to persevere.

“I’m giving you this nightmare situation only because I want you to be prepared because you come from Columbus. You come from Schuyler. You come from communities that are probably welcoming and you could end up in a college that is not as much,” she said.

The summit, held Sept. 21 at Central Community College-Columbus, was attended by about 60 students from Schuyler Central High School, Columbus High School and Lakeview High School. The event stressed the importance of education and featured a panel of Hispanic speakers.

Godinez said she wanted students to learn that nothing should deter them from pursing their future goals.

“Don’t let that first situation or first obstacle keep you from your dream. I could have easily dropped out of school and not be where I am,” said Godinez, who works at Justice for Our Neighbors in Lexington.

For students like Iris Medina, the message hit home.

The Schuyler senior fears a culture shock when she goes to college. She already went through that once when she moved to America from Mexico.

“I came here during the fourth grade and I had to learn a different language,” she said.

Moving to another country was a difficult transition.

“People would make fun of the way I spoke English or the way I would pronounce words. That was really hard for me,” Medina said.

Over the years, she said things got better and she came out of her shell. Now Medina is afraid she might have to go through that experience all over again when she graduates from high school and moves on to college, where the student population might not be as diverse as the one is Schuyler.

Medina wanted to attend the summit so she could learn about the opportunities that are available to her as a Latina.

Vanessa Oceguera, executive director of Keep Columbus Beautiful, told students diversity can be an advantage because some employers are looking to hire people who don’t “fit the regular mold.”

“Your heritage and your background and the fact that if you can speak more than one language is an absolute positive,” she said.

Columbus High School junior Samantha Martinez said she thinks being able to speak English and Spanish is an advantage for her.

Attending college has always been her goal, even though she would be the first member of her family with a postsecondary education.

“I want to have a better future. I have seen my parents struggle with working really hard and earning very low salaries for what they do,” Martinez said.

Her parents are from Mexico and didn’t finish high school. She hopes pursuing a college education will lead her to a career in the medical field, possibly becoming a pharmacy assistant.

Hearing from speakers that included gang intervention specialist Alberto “Beto” Gonzalez and Juan Cangas, an authority in youth leadership development, helped give Carlos Aleman direction for his future.

The Lakeview junior has lived here for three years after moving from El Salvador. He attended the summit to hear what he could do after graduating from high school to make his dream of becoming a veterinarian come true.

“Something I learned is you have to work hard for something that you want,” he said.


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Paulina's Fashion a dream come true for owner

Schuyler’s newest clothing store, Paulina’s Fashion, is a dream come true for owner Paulina Perez.

She moved here 15 years ago from Guatemala and started buying clothes wholesale and selling the items out of her home about eight years ago.

“I’ve been selling clothes for a long time,” Perez said through a translator. “It’s what I like.”

This summer, Perez signed up for an eight-week introduction to business course through Centro Hispano led by program and outreach manager Raul Arcos.

“She was very energetic,” said Arcos. “She was very willing to learn. She did ask a lot of questions.”

By that time Perez and her husband had already purchased and were remodeling a small house near the viaduct at 107 12th St. Shortly after she started the business class, Perez opened Paulina's Fashion.

Perez said her plan is to stock clothing for the entire family and everyone in the Schuyler community.

“I try to bring in new styles all the time," she said.

In addition to building her inventory, Perez has taken courses through Centro Hispano on QuickBooks and marketing. The business was starting to fully take shape when she realized the roof has a few leaks.

“She was struggling because she had a minor setback,” said Arcos. “She has to fix the roof before she finishes anything else, but she’s getting the front of the house set up.”

Although her plan may have fallen behind schedule, Perez got a boost earlier this month when the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce Commodores made a visit to the business.

Perez hopes to have the roof work completed soon, allowing her to finish setting up the store, including the fall and winter stock.

She's shooting for a grand opening in October followed by regular store hours, though a date for that event hasn't been set.

Meanwhile, she’s not letting a few bumps in the road slow her down.

“I feel really good,” Perez said. “I was looking to have my own business and not having to depend on anyone else.”

To reach the business, call 402-352-6094.


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Ski Lake Resort gets zoning update

Schuyler City Council approved a motion to rezone Ski Lake Resort from agricultural to single-family residential during last week's meeting.

City Attorney Richard Seckman said the resort’s previous zoning was an oversight brought to the city's attention when Jay and Susan Kment filed an application for a small subdivision there and learned the area was zoned for agriculture.

Seckman clarified for one resident that the zoning change will not affect their property taxes or the ag land surrounding the resort.

The council waived the rule requiring three hearings for the zoning change and voted to adopt it.

Another zoning change approved by the council allows the owners of lots larger than 1 acre to construct accessory buildings up to 1,500 square feet in size.

Seckman said this amendment came up because a property owner applied for a permit on a lot larger than an acre. Zoning code already specified the allowable size of accessory buildings on smaller lots.

The council also approved:

• The release of $687.50 in local sales tax revenue to pay Horizon Builders for the clock tower repairs.

• A design agreement with JEO Consulting for the downtown infrastructure project.

• Transferring $14,473.07 in keno revenue to the general fund for operations of the Oak Ballroom and $38,593.44 for Schuyler Municipal Swimming Pool. The ballroom amount is down from last year, when it needed $18,247.67, while the pool amount is up from $28,812.33.


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Driver in fatal Schuyler crash accepts manslaughter charge

The driver in a June 2016 crash that killed a 15-year-old Schuyler girl is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 8 after pleading no contest to manslaughter.

Angel Lopez, 23, entered his plea Wednesday in Colfax County District Court as part of a deal with the prosecution, which dismissed charges of driving under the influence resulting in serious bodily injury, second-offense DUI, second-offense reckless driving and operating a motor vehicle during revocation.

Lopez, who faces up to 20 years in prison for the Class 2A felony, was behind the wheel of a 2005 Honda Accord that slammed into a tree shortly after 11 p.m. June 15, 2016, along West Sixth Street in Schuyler.

Isabella Brandt, a passenger in the vehicle, was pronounced dead shortly after the crash and a 15-year-old boy who was also inside the Honda required 14 staples to close a gash on his head.

According to court documents, Lopez and the teens were parked in the picnic area near the Oak Ballroom when a Schuyler Police officer attempted to make contact to notify them of the park curfew.

The vehicle drove away, and the officer attempted to initiate a traffic stop, which led to a brief pursuit before the officer ended the chase.

A crash involving the same Honda Accord occurred a few minutes later near the intersection of West Sixth and Elk streets when the vehicle drove over the curb and struck a tree head-on.

Lopez, who had to be extricated from the wrecked vehicle, was transported by ambulance to CHI Health Schuyler then flown to Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha for treatment.

An affidavit supporting his arrest says Lopez told an emergency room nurse at the Schuyler hospital he had “like 10 beers” that night. Officers also found a half-empty bottle of tequila inside his vehicle, the document states.

Lopez was arrested in Schuyler the week before the fatal accident for DUI, driving during revocation and procuring alcohol to a minor following a traffic stop that involved the same teenage boy injured in the crash.

Three months earlier, the Schuyler man was convicted of DUI in Platte County and had his license revoked for one year.

He also has previous convictions in Nebraska for reckless driving in 2014, driving under suspension twice in 2013 and driving under revocation in 2014 and May 2016, according to court documents.


Lopez