Vail Valley scholars beat tough times | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley scholars beat tough times

Sarah Mausolf
smausolf@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado

Special to the Daily

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – For Mandy Fischer, becoming the first Red Canyon High School alumnus to graduate from a four-year college is a major accomplishment.

It’s also something the 22-year-old from Eagle said she could not have done without the Guardian Scholars program.

“I would have had huge loans to take out,” she said. “It would have probably been something that deterred me from attending college at all. They put faith in me.”

Eleven kids from Eagle County are enrolled in the Guardian Scholars program. Three of those students –Fischer, Joe Felix and T.J. Montoya – graduated Saturday from Mesa State College in Grand Junction. Josie John Sutner also graduates this spring from Columbia University in New York.

In Eagle County, kids are eligible for the Guardian Scholars program if they have overcome significant emotional and physical challenges in their lives, program found Ron Davis said.

“The program, on a national basis, is for foster youth,” he said. “In this town we do not have adequate foster homes, so as a result, a lot of kids end up having just a lot of displacement. By displacement, I mean they are basically couch surfing. They’re going form one place to another.”

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The Guardian Scholars program offers those who are accepted a free ride to Mesa State or a partial scholarship to another school, plus free, year-round housing and living expenses.

“They’re able to realize a dream they never through was possible,” Davis said.

What makes the scholarship unique is that students have access to an emotional support team, something they may not have at home.

“We’re kind of super mom, super dad,” Davis said.

Whenever students are struggling, they can call their Guardian Scholars “family,” including Davis, his wife, Lucy Davis, and Susie Davis, executive director of The Youth Foundation in Edwards, along with Fran Morales at Mesa State.

“We’re more than a scholarship,” Davis likes to say. “We’re a family.”

For Fischer, the Guardian Scholars family offered support as she coped with her father’s illness.

“My dad had fallen ill a couple times,” she said. “Any time I’ve needed them, they’ve been there for moral support.”

Fischer’s perseverance paid off. She graduated with a bachelor’s of science in environmental science and technology. After graduation, she’s heading to Clark, Colorado, to work as a park ranger at Steamboat Lake. She hopes to secure a permanent job with the Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management.

For Josie John Sutner from Vail, the Guardian Scholars family offered a sense of belonging when she left for Columbia University in New York.

“I always have someone to turn to, which is incredible because coming to New York was a huge, huge transition,” she said.

During her freshman year, Sutner went through a hard time. One of the top performers at Battle Mountain High School, she discovered a different, highly competitive world at Columbia. She questioned whether she had a right to be at the Ivy League school, if she was smart enough. She remembered how Ron Davis urged her to hang in.

Not only did Sutner persevere, the 22-year-old is graduating this spring from Columbia with a major in English literature and pre-law. She plans to apply for law school.

For Sutner, who moved often as a young child, graduating from Columbia is especially meaningful. Without the Guardian Scholarship and other financial aid, she said she would not have been able to afford tuition to Columbia.

“I think it’s really rewarding to see the payoff of hard work but also all the ways in which I’ve been helped by the community and the support system,” she said.

Joe Felix says the Guardian Scholars program helped him make something of his life.

“It’s just an overall blessing and they’re the best people I’ve ever met,” he said.

Felix said he grew up in a gang-infested neighborhood in Albuquerque, N.M. His grandparents, who raised him after his mother had him at age 15, moved to Gypsum when Felix was 8.

Getting a higher education was not something Felix considered attainable until he got his scholarship.

“I was just going to go into the Army and from there, see what I could do,” he said.

Instead, Felix, 22, graduated Saturday from Mesa State with a bachelor’s in marketing and management, and Ron Davis said Felix was recognized as a distinguished business student.

T.J. Montoya from Minturn found out about the Guardian Scholars program during his freshman year at Mesa State.

He applied in hopes of relieving a financial burden on his parents.

“Growing up – my brother and sister both have cerebral palsy,” he said. “I really wanted to get the scholarship because my parents were helping me out my freshman year of college and I didn’t want them to have to pay for me to go all the way through school.”

Montoya put his scholarship to good use. Not only did he graduate from Mesa State Saturday with a bachelor’s in business administration, Ron Davis said Montoya was recognized as a distinguished business student.

“I really can’t believe it,” Montoya said. “It went by so fast, too fast. At the same time, I’m excited to get out and find a good job.”