Laufer Scholarship Helps Student Appreciate the Gift of Life

Photo of Matador alumnus Orlando AvilaLaufer Scholarship Helps Student Appreciate the Gift of Life
By Chelsea Turner

The old adage “hard work pays off” proved true for Matador alumnus Orlando Avila ’10 (Religious Studies/Philosophy). As a recipient of the Joseph and Anna Laufer Religious Studies Student Endowment in fall 2009, Avila found that his work on campus and off campus in the real world paid off in a true gift of life to his daughter, now 4 years old.

Avila, who had never applied for a scholarship during his academic career, was nominated for the award by a professor after volunteering as a teaching assistant in three lower-division religious studies courses.

He’s no stranger to hard work. A first-generation college student, Avila had a distinctively split schedule by his sophomore year at CSUN: Two days a week, he worked as a security guard from 5 a.m. to noon and attended class from 1:30 to 7 p.m. On two other days, he worked a second job as a technician from 7 p.m. to midnight and went to class from 8 a.m. through the afternoon. He also worked Friday to Sunday, making his work week a full seven days.

In his junior year, Avila added to that load by becoming a volunteer teaching assistant in the religious studies department, helping freshmen with basic college materials and explaining the major.

“The cycle was horrible,” he recalled. “I was always tired and always burnt out, but I had to do it to stay in school.”

Passionately driven to earn two bachelor’s degrees, Avila kept at it, rarely taking breaks and studying every possible moment. He admits that studying was never his strong suit, so working through school helped him gain practical experience. “Working is what we’re going for after college,” he said. “Not having side distractions [with this schedule] enhanced my focus.”

As graduation neared, his load grew heavier. Avila and his longtime girlfriend, Dulciria Zuniga, found themselves expecting a baby. As the due date neared, Avila continued to work hard, save money and study for his degrees.

Photo of Avila holding her daughter and standing next to her wife.
Avila is already teaching his young daughter the importance of scholarship.
Excited to become a father, the nearly $1,000 Laufer Endowment seemed like a good way to start a savings account for his new daughter’s future education. However, upon her birth, Avila and Zuniga found themselves facing a $500 copayment to the hospital.

“I had thought good insurance, which my girlfriend had, meant good coverage,” Avila said. “I couldn’t believe we were sitting in the hospital about to be admitted, and I didn’t have the funds. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks: I can use the award money!”

With help from his scholarship, Rheina Marie Avila was born on Jan. 27, 2010. Though originally awarded for career pursuit and academic success — Avila made the Dean’s List in the religious studies and philosophy departments — the Laufer Endowment proved helpful beyond its institutional bounds.

“I want to support students who demonstrate a commitment to overcome difficulties and have the education so that they can improve themselves and support their families and become role models for others to follow in their footsteps,” said David Laufer ’68 (English), the sponsor of the endowment.

“To the Laufer family, I would like to say ‘thank you’ for giving me that amazing feeling in the fall of 2009,” Avila said. “I felt a distant family was telling me I was on the right track in life. You helped this young man with one of the most important moments he’ll have in life.”

Avila and his girlfriend continue to raise Rheina together. They plan to encourage her to attend college and work toward scholarships. Avila also said he hopes to give back to higher education though a gift to CSUN, the institution that provided him with two gifts of his own — one monetary and one, a new family.