© 2011 Idaho Press-Tribune

CALDWELL — Silvia Marroquin graduated from The College of Idaho in May and hopes to become a medical professional. Her education at C of I was possible, she said, because of the Taste of the Harvest scholarship — a fund put into place 11 years ago by Caldwell vineyard owners Ron and Mary Bitner.

Marroquin’s family moved to the states in 2004 to escape violence in Guatemala, she said. Like Marroquin, recipients of the Taste of the Harvest scholarship are children of migrant workers.

“We’ve had vineyards for over 30 years,” Ron Bitner said. “I’ve always had Hispanic workers, and in Canyon County they do most of the long, hard work. …. This is more than just giving them a pat on the back — it’s helping send their children to school.”

Money for the scholarship is raised through private donors and the annual Taste of the Harvest Festival, which is Saturday at The College of Idaho. The festival celebrates Idaho’s agriculture heritage and showcases local produce, wine and art.

The festival draws in about 1,000 people and raises between $5,000 and $6,000 annually, C of I Marketing and Communications Director Dustin Wunderlich said.

Nancy Cortes, who moved to Idaho from Mexico at age 14, said the Taste of the Harvest scholarship is the reason she was able to attend The College of Idaho.

“It allowed me to get that first step, which is going to college, and to be able to do something to give back,” she said.

Cortes is now eying a master’s degree in economics, she said, and wants to thank all the people who contributed.

“It was a great gift from the Bitners. … They believe in education as a way to improve the world.”

Like Cortes, Marroquin’s gratefulness for the scholarship makes her want to give back.

“You can’t just cross your arms and say, ‘Oh, I graduated, I’m going to move on,’” Marroquin said. “You have to realize who’s involved in the process and how you can help them back.”

Marroquin, who works part-time at Bitner Vineyards, hopes to stay in Idaho and provide Spanish-speaking services as a doctor or physician’s assistant.

“I’m low income, and I know what people go through when they don’t have insurance,” she said. “Since I speak Spanish, and I know that a lot of the people in Idaho who are low income do speak Spanish, I think I could help them.”

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