Guardian’s angels: Local Guardian Scholar program is growing, along with the need for it | VailDaily.com

Guardian’s angels: Local Guardian Scholar program is growing, along with the need for it

EDWARDS — College isn't easy for anyone, but every spring when bands play "Pomp and Circumstance" and another group of Guardian Scholars graduates, everyone knows it's worth it.

The Guardian Scholars program helps disadvantaged youth graduate college.

Students come from what we'll call "challenging" backgrounds. Some have parents, some don't. Some are homeless; many are from foster homes. None had the financial and emotional support for college.

Now they do.

The local Guardian Scholars program hit 45 participants this year: 35 at Colorado Mesa University and 10 at Colorado Mountain College. Of those 45, 13 are new with the program and started college this fall.

CMU President Tim Foster spoke to the Guardian Scholars back-to-school banquet in Edwards.

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"My experience is that the success of efforts to help people is directly tied to the commitment and passion of the people trying to do the helping," Foster said.

A 2010 University of Chicago study found that only 6 percent of former foster youths had earned a two- or four-year degree by age 24. Those not in college may be in jail; 34 percent who had left foster care at age 17 or 18 reported being arrested by age 19.

Guardian Scholars don't roll like that. Their college graduation rate is above 90 percent.

"Their success rate is incredible. I've never seen that kind of success in the population they work with," CMU's Foster said. "They go through the selection process and then they support the students not just financially, and that's a huge part of this, but they support them intangibly and morally, all the time."

Not complicated, not easy either

Just because it's not complicated, doesn't mean it's easy.

Fatima Blanco is a senior at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, set to graduate this December. She graduated Battle Mountain High School in 2015 and had already earned her associates degree through Colorado Mountain College.

"Basically, I had two years done," Blanco said.

That's one of the reasons she could start CMU in nursing, switch to psychology and then to business and finance and still graduate early.

Blanco got involved with the program when she was in high school. That's where she met Susie Davis.

Blanco was hoping to go to college, but didn't know how she'd pay for it. She was working in the Thrifty Shop when Susie Davis wandered in. They talked, as folks will do, and the conversation rolled around to Blanco's post-high school plans. Davis gave her a scholarship application, Blanco submitted it and was chosen.

Blanco spoke to this year's Guardian Scholars, encouraging them to take advantage of the help being made available to them.

"There are a lot of resources around you. All those resources will help you through this," Blanco said.

Blanco's Guardian Scholar guardian angels helped her land an internship last summer at Vail Health Hospital. She did so well they offered her a job. She'll start after her CMU graduation in December.

Blanco was born in Vail and is the second in her family to finish college. Her older sister worked her way through. Her dad came from a family of 15, her mom from a family of 10. Her parents had to drop out of school to help support their families.

Ron Davis founded the program in 1998 at Cal State Fullerton and expanded it into Eagle County several years ago.

Students have to earn a 3.0 grade point average, take dual-enrollment college classes and come from a low-income background. They have to write essays about the obstacles they've faced and how they've overcome them. Then they go through a battery of interviews.

The money is provided through private support and a combination of federal and state grants. They have no overhead. Every dime goes to the scholars.

Uncommon resilience

Local Guardian Scholars' stories are different, but they have one thing in common — uncommon resilience.

Jenni Adams spent most of her years in high school watching cancer take her mother, Terri, by inches. Then, as she traveled the country for a few weeks attending funerals and scattering Terri's ashes in keeping with her mother's wishes, her boss decided Jenni had been off the job for too long and fired her.

Justine Henderson had been on her own since her father left when she was 13. She graduated Eagle Valley High School and studied at the University of Denver.

Henderson said she lived outside society and was not willing to ask for help; she was embarrassed about being homeless and tried to hide it. Kids from dysfunctional families often turn to alcohol or drugs. She didn't go down that road.

But it's not just a money program. Guardian Scholars provides all kinds of emotional and academic support for its students while they're in college. Local Guardian Scholars have now been graduating college for about a decade. The first, Josie Johns, graduated Columbia University in New York City.

"During my first year at Columbia University, I doubted myself and my right to be there," Johns said. "I said 'I can't,' but my Guardian Scholar family helped me realize that I could — and I did. I tried harder in school because I didn't want to let them down."

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

Learn more

For more information about Guardian Scholars, visit http://www.guardianscholars.com.