By Kiley Mallard
The summer before Crystal Vazquez started attending the University of South Florida (USF), she had to spend most of the money she’d saved for tuition on a new transmission for her car. She considered pausing her education, but her parents encouraged her to sign up for classes and have faith that the finances would work out.
Her older sister, a USF alumna and the first in the family to graduate from college, asked if she’d checked on the scholarships she’d applied for. Feeling pessimistic, Vazquez asked her sister to do it. “She logged in and was like, ‘It says you have $5,000.’ I was like, ‘No way. It’s a mistake.’ I literally started shaking and crying,” said Vazquez, realizing her tuition was covered.
Vazquez is one of the recipients of the Leung Family Scholarship, established by Connie and Tony Leung in 2022. It supports students from high schools in Southern Hillsborough County, including the areas of Ruskin, Apollo Beach and Wimauma.
The Leungs founded their business, Sanwa Food Group, 42 years ago in Ruskin. “We had a lot of support from the community in South Hillsborough County, and we wanted to give something back to the people who helped us be successful in our industry,” said Connie.
The Leungs particularly hope to help students from low-income and migrant families.
Vazquez’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Veracruz, Mexico and supported the family with agriculture jobs in Wimauma and Ruskin. Now settled in Gibsonton, they work in construction.
“It literally changed my life,” Vazquez said about the scholarship. Being a substitute teacher and Amazon employee, she could cut back on work to better focus on her studies.
Vazquez, who will receive an additional $5,000 from the scholarship, was among the first four recipients. Hailey Friedrichsen, Javier Perez Iglesias and Franjelys Reyes are also receiving $10,000 each.
Reyes, a business analytics and information systems major, is also the daughter of immigrants.
“It feels good to fulfill my mom’s purpose in moving to the U.S.,” said Reyes, who plans a future in business.
Before the fall semester, Reyes figured she would have to pay most of her tuition herself. Like Vazquez, Reyes held down two jobs. The scholarship has allowed her to work less and study more.
“I was doing full-time school and then full-time work, and it was a lot, but I needed the extra income.” she said. “Now I’m able to focus on my studies, and it’s been a while since I’ve been able to do that.”
This is the Leungs’ second USF scholarship. In 2009, they established the Leung Global Experience Scholarship, which they endowed in 2011 and then earmarked for students in the Muma College of Business in 2016. It subsidizes a study-abroad experience, which is significant to the Leungs. Both natives of Hong Kong, the couple met while attending Guelph University in Ontario, Canada.
“A couple of the students expressed to me that without this funding, they probably would have had to work to save enough money or even skip a college degree,” said Tony.
“There’s honestly no words that can explain to them how grateful I am,” said Vazquez, who was inspired by the Leungs’ story of being immigrants to this country and starting their own successful business. “It really gives me hope for the future. I hope to one day be in their position and give back to my community.”