A view from both sides of the fence
EAGLE COUNTY – Growing up in a southwest St. Louis suburb without many of the comforts and opportunities of her wealthier peers, Susie Davis did not have it easy. She has lived “on both sides of the fence,” as she puts it. Fortunately, she says, she received tutoring and guidance from caring mentors who opened doors of possibility that otherwise would have remained closed. Now, it’s time to pay it forward. As an adult, Davis works with underprivileged youth in Eagle County through the Youth Foundation. She sees her childhood situation as similar to those of her current students. She needed “‘a hand up,’ not a handout,” as the foundation calls it, and so do they, she says. Many residents not only appreciate her work, but admire her, as well.
“She’s my hero. She always goes the extra mile for everybody – for the person or the cause or the event,” says Beth Reilly, director of the Eagle River Youth Coalition. And while visiting with a former student who is now in college, Davis asked what he wanted to do for a job. He replied with the ultimate compliment- become “director of the Youth Foundation,” he said. Academic soccerOver the years, Davis has developed lasting relationships with her students, she says.
“Every kid has something to contribute to the community,” she says. They both give and receive, she adds. The director of programming at the Youth Foundation, and a participant in the Eagle River Youth Coalition, Davis says she tries through education to “level the playing field” for kids from different socio-economic backgrounds. Davis and Kathy Brendza run the Youth Foundation, which organizes after-school programs such as Academic Soccer, which combines tutoring and soccer for middle-schoolers. Academic Soccer is a free soccer league for children who cannot afford to pay for another local league. In addition to playing soccer, the students must work to raise their grades while being tutored by area teachers hired by the Youth Foundation. The Eagle County School District allows Davis and Brendza to use its public schools for Academic Soccer, and free transportation is provided to every participant.
Pre-school to collegeThe Youth Foundation was founded by Mark Smith in 1997 to address the widening income gap between area families by providing increased attention to the education of underprivileged children. It works with kids from pre-school through college to help provide them equal opportunity. The foundation has been very successful, especially at helping students for whom English is not their first language, Davis says. She attributes much of their success to its board of directors, which is headed by Gerald Gallegos, and generous contributions from local denizens and second-home owners, she says. Davis moved to Vail in 1976. She had planned on staying for the ski season, but has remained ever since because of the climate, mountains, and good community for raising a family.