by The Leaven
TOPEKA — The Cortes family of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish here is passionate about three things: faith, family and Mexican food.
The entrepreneurial family of eight owns and operates Poblanos Grill, a Topeka-based food truck serving up authentic Mexican food six days a week. The oldest three of the six Cortes children help the family business with cooking, cleaning and serving made-from-scratch meals to customers.
Putting faith first
But despite the early mornings and busy weekends, parents Israel and Clemencia Cortes have always made sure to put faith first — from the wooden rosary and image of Our Lady placed prominently behind the cash register, to the education of their children.
While the Cortes family has always been heavily involved with parish life — as eucharistic ministers, lectors, altar servers and volunteers at parish events — it wasn’t until their priest introduced them to the scholarships available through the Catholic Education Foundation that they considered the possibility of faith-based education for their children.
“Once they knew about the scholarships, my parents were determined to take us to a Catholic school,” said Paulina. At the time, she was finishing 7th grade at a local middle school. The family’s scholarship applications were quickly accepted, and Paulina started at Holy Family School the following year.
CEF scholarships pave the way to Catholic schooling
Paulina’s is one of more than 1,500 scholarships, valued at over $2.5 million, that CEF provided in the 2019-20 school year alone, with even more slated for the upcoming semester. Currently, CEF has a 99% graduation rate among its scholarship recipients.
The Cortes family has benefited from CEF scholarships for the past five years, with all six children attending Hayden High School or Holy Family Elementary School.
“The scholarships have impacted my family a lot,” said Paulina. “We have all grown very close together. We talk about religion, we talk about our faith and we talk about how we can help others.”
“We like to debate religion a lot,” she added, “and it’s really fun because everyone is really passionate about it. We have gotten closer as a family.”
Paying the gift of education forward
As Paulina looks ahead to life after graduation, her sights are set on bringing the gifts she has been given back to her family, friends and community.
“No one in my family has ever been to college. I will be the first. It’s a lot of responsibility, and I really hope I can show my younger siblings the way,” said Paulina. “I want to go into business administration so I can help my family’s business grow.”
“I have seen my parents tired and still working; they have encouraged me to fight for my dreams,” she continued. “My mom wants to open a restaurant. That’s her dream, and I want to help her achieve that.”
In the meantime, the family continues to let their three big passions lead the way as they serve their community.
“There are a lot of people who can’t afford our food, or people experiencing homelessness, who visit the food truck,” said Paulina, “and we’d give them food and try to help them out. I remember one person in particular who would come a lot during the winter.
“And now, he has a job, and he comes, and he pays, and he tips us and thanks us.”
“Being patient with people has helped me a lot in a Catholic way,” she added. “You see people, and you don’t judge them. You just do your part.”
For more of Paulina’s story, and to learn more about the Catholic Education Foundation, go to the website at: cefks.org.