Jacki and Gilbert Cisneros may now live in a big house in Newport Beach, but they have certainly not forgotten the working-class Latino neighborhood that has been part of their family for generations.
- Is This Week's Best-Dressed Star a Little ... Snoozy?
- Angelina Jolie: 'This Was the Right Thing to Do For Our Family'
- Ashley Hamilton Opens Up About Eating Disorder
- Ancient Creature with Scissor-Like Claws Is Named After Johnny Depp
- Christoph Waltz Rushed Off French Talk Show After Sounds of Gunfire
After all, Pico Rivera, Calif., is not only the place where the couple traces its roots, but also where Gilbert purchased the winning Mega Millions lottery ticket that netted $266 million a year ago, making national headlines. The couple could have moved away and spent their millions on themselves, but they want to give something back to a town that has given them so much.
Thus, alongside Hispanic Scholarship Fund president Frank Alvarez, the wealthy couple announced on TODAY Tuesday that they are providing substantial scholarship money to benefit students from Pico Rivera. With a gift to the Hispanic Scholarship Fund that will run into seven figures over the next five years, the couple want to give students at the town’s only high school, El Rancho High School, the financial assistance to achieve their dreams of attending college.
‘A family commitment’
“Kind of reflecting back on my own life and when I went to college, my parents, I knew, would support me in whatever decision I would do, but there was no push towards college,’’ Gilbert Cisneros told TODAY’s Ann Curry. “There was no college fund. I kind of knew that I was pretty much going to have to do it on my own. Luckily for me I was able to receive a scholarship that enabled me to go on to college.
“Now that we have the means to do some good, we kind of want to give other students that same opportunity.’’
Jacki Cisneros, whose grandfather is a former mayor of Pico Rivera, told Curry that they hope to assist hundreds and possibly thousands of students over the years by working with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. The Cisneros’ gift aims to provide 50 scholarships of $2,500 each to students from El Rancho starting in 2012 while also contributing to community outreach programs designed to encourage post-secondary learning.
Related: $266 million lottery winner is keeping her job
Pico Rivera also will be at the front of the nationwide “Generation First Degree’’ campaign by the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, which is pushing for a college degree in every home for Hispanic students.
Finally, the Frank Terrazas Legacy Scholarship Program will be created in honor of Jacki’s grandfather as an endowment that will provide scholarships to future El Rancho students.
“Going to college and getting your college education is a family commitment,’’ Gilbert Cisneros told Curry. “Everybody has to be involved. You can’t just put it in neutral and hope your kid goes in the right direction.
“We want to get the family support in there, so there’s a program in there to help families understand the importance of college, and what it would mean.’’
All told, the Cisneros’ scholarship gift totals more than $1.25 million over the next five years.
“I knew that getting a college degree in every household in Pico Rivera, which is the goal of these wonderful people, is not going to only change the lives of the student, but the entire family and the generations to come, so I was elated,’’ Alvarez told Curry.
El Rancho High School has a graduation rate of more than 90 percent, but many students do not have the financial means to continue their education.Video: Lottery winners start scholarship fund (on this page)
“We dream big,’’ El Rancho senior Daniella Lopez told NBC News. “We dream of schools like NYU and big schools that we want to go to. Sometimes we can achieve that because of our intelligence, but we’re hindered by [the fact] that we don’t have money to go to it.’’
The Cisneroses want to ensure that students like Lopez and other seniors are allowed to earn that college degree and not wonder what might have been, like 1994 graduate Sergio Silva.
“I lacked resources and family support,’’ Silva, who did not attend college, told NBC News. “I didn’t have the proper guidance, I think. I was three classes away from transferring, and I just stopped going.’’Video: $266M lottery winner ‘just kept working’ (on this page)
While the population of El Rancho is largely Hispanic, the scholarship fund is open to all students, not just Hispanic ones.
The Cisneros couple made national headlines last May when Gilbert purchased 10 Mega Millions tickets, including the winner, while picking up dinner at L & L Hawaiian BBQ in Pico Rivera. Their blue-collar roots immediately showed, as Jacki continued to go to work at her job at KNBC in Los Angeles despite the life-changing financial windfall.
It was the eighth-highest total ever won in Mega Millions history, and it came thanks to Gil’s unwillingness to pay for parking to get Mexican food downtown. He opted for L & L Hawaiian BBQ instead, and ended up purchasing the winning ticket.
The odds of buying that ticket were 175,711,536 to 1.
Thanks to Cisneros and his wife, the odds of seniors at El Rancho High School moving on to college just dramatically increased.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints