Student Stories

Before I was introduced to Colorado UpLift, I was pretty hopeless. Things for me were bad. My mom was only 16, a child herself, when she had me; my dad is an alcoholic. Because my environment was toxic, I was raised by my great grandmother. While she tried her best to care for me, she couldn’t provide for all my needs. The constant chaos of my life took its toll and I struggled with depression. At that dark moment in my life, UpLift stepped in. My UpLift mentors, like Ms. Thaís, are now always there when I need them. It is because of my relationship with them that I stopped hurting myself, something I had been doing since I was 13. Ms. Thaís has taught me how to overcome my struggles and not be defined by them. I’m overwhelmed by how much the staff at UpLift care for me. They are the most reliable people in my life. If it weren’t for Colorado UpLift, I probably would have dropped out of school. They not only care about my emotional wellbeing, but they push me to do my best. I’m making an effort to go to all my classes so I can graduate. With the support of my mentors, and Colorado UpLift, I am going to break the negative generational cycle I was born into. My story is going to be different than the one my family has shown me. I will be the first in my family to graduate and fulfill my dreams.

Every day I have the privilege of being a teacher/mentor with Colorado UpLift, an organization that truly changes lives. Having been an UpLift student, I know firsthand the power of this amazing program and the impact it has had on my life. Inspired by my mentors and what they have done for me, I decided to become an UpLift Mentor so that I could pass along everything UpLift has given me. Originally born in Namibia, Africa, my family came to the United States and settled in Denver when I was three years old. The difficulty of adapting to a new country was compounded by my father’s alcoholism and abuse. When he eventually abandoned us, he left my mother alone to raise eight children on welfare and food stamps. However, given her battle with depression and schizophrenia, my sister and I had to take on much of the responsibility. With all my family responsibilities, when UpLift came to my fourth grade class and invited me to summer day camp, I jumped at the chance. Camp offered me a place to escape from reality and allowed me to be a kid. Looking back now, a decision I made as a 4th grader changed the course of my life. Because of Colorado UpLift and all of the support they have given me, my story has become one of triumph and resiliency. Despite the many challenges I have faced in my life, Colorado UpLift has given me the support and tools I needed to persevere. UpLift has been there through the death of my mother who took her own life, as well as the deaths of two siblings – one from suicide like my mother and the other from unknown causes. UpLift was also there for us when my sister and I recently fought for and won custody of my younger brother, saving him from my father’s abuse. In 2005 I graduated from South High School and was awarded the Daniels Scholarship. This is a full ride scholarship for young leaders of exceptional character who have the desire to give back to their communities. My mother always told us that education was the way out of poverty. I believe that with the help of Colorado UpLift we have finally broken the generational cycle and found our way out.

After I moved to Denver and joined Colorado UpLift there have been a lot of tough times in my life. This includes dealing with my mom’s cancer which has been extremely hard for me. Through the tears and pain Corina has always been there. In addition to her love and support, she taught me how to handle the pressure while not letting my circumstances stop me from achieving my goals. UpLift has also provided me with a safe place to get away from it all when I simply need a break. They allow me to be myself and enjoy life as a normal sixteen-year-old which is very hard to do in real life. And because Corina grew up with the same challenges and obstacles in her own life, she understands me which has created an incredible bond between us. While I do not know what my life might have been like without Corina and Colorado UpLift, I am grateful for all they have given me. With their guidance and support I know I will finish high school and attend college. My dream is to become a pediatrician one day.

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Like many UpLift students, I came into the program as a third grader; I saw Vic and Q at Columbine Elementary School classroom once a week. I remember they always knew my name. One of my favorite memories of that time was seeing the high school students and having an opportunity to hang out with them, but Middle School was when I really fell in love with UpLift. I loved going on adventures like white water rafting and bowling, and many times I knew I was going to get a meal out of it – it was so fun. Once in high school I enjoyed being in the UpLift program but I really excelled in teaching the Little Lift, where the high school kids teach at the local elementary. I knew all of my Little Lift kids’ names.

Vic was the positive male role model that I saw in my life. Vic had become who I wanted to be. I remember watching him being patient with his own four children. Vic celebrated birthdays and was still cool. Q was like my second mom. She was nurturing and was always there when I needed her. After I graduated from East High School I had several career path opportunities, but didn’t really know the best direction to pursue. Meanwhile, Vic and Q were still providing opportunities and insights after I had left the UpLift classroom. They then began to provide leadership opportunities for me, allowing me to give back to my community. I began to realize that I had the leadership qualities Vic had been teaching me about for years. I worked with a few youth organizations across the city for five years, engaging with all types of kids. If there were at-risk kids from Denver, I was there. One day Vic called me and told him to apply to UpLift. I could be a leader, teacher and a mentor in the same school that taught me to be one. I love each day.

I never would have thought as a 15-year old freshman girl walking into a Colorado UpLift class for the first time, that these staff members (along with what they taught me) would still be in my life the day that I graduated college. Preparing for the next chapter of my life 9 years later they’re still with me.

UpLift was first introduced into my life by Jerry Torres, Sirena Rodriguez, and Jessica Lucero. In 2005 I was probably one of the quietest students. I sat back in awe at the things going on in front of the classroom. Throughout my first year I was encouraged to take the class again, and make my way into the advanced leadership class for upperclassmen. I wondered why I was encouraged though. I had never really “lead” anything before, and I was always so soft-spoken that it never occurred to me that I could be a leader. By my second year in the UpLift program, I was quickly becoming more involved with after school activities and programming.

One particular day, we learned about drop-out rates and graduation rates. The severity of the issue blew my mind. From that one lesson, I was moved to start researching drop-outs rates in my high school, then Denver, then out to the greater state of Colorado. Soon enough, with the help of Jerry, I found myself with a group of peers in the advanced leadership team presenting an entire project we created called The Statistic Resistance Project. From that point on, I couldn’t get enough of UpLift.

I became a part of the advanced leadership team for the rest of my time with UpLift, while I forged new relationships with Kevin Byerley and David Dye. I had the opportunity to not only learn more about the issue, but to lead the effort against it. UpLift provided me different opportunities to serve my community and others beyond Colorado (and even outside of the U.S.). Even my summers were all about UpLift, and I was blessed to be an initial Summer Advanced Leadership Team member for two summers. Even after I graduated from West High in 2009, I came back that summer to help again.

To this day, I am constantly geared up and eager to help out with different projects at UpLift. It feels as though these specific staff members and so many others have helped equip me to be the leader that I am today. I recently graduated from college with a degree in Social Sciences. Along the way, I served for two years as the president of a multicultural organization on campus, and was also very engaged in so many other organizations. I ended my college career as commencement speaker of my ceremony. This was one of my fondest memories, as my family sat alongside my UpLift family watching and celebrating.

Growing up my family was very poor, and with six siblings, there were a lot of mouths to feed. My brothers and sisters and I bounced around from school to school and had a lot of challenges, instability and struggles at home. In seventh grade things finally started to get better as I was able to move in with my grandparents and was also introduced to Colorado UpLift.

Over the years UpLift has given me so much including structure, stability and a sense of belonging. I also developed an amazing relationship with my UpLift mentors which has been life changing and unlike anything I’ve ever known. When I first met them they gave me a sense of hope and made me feel valued as a person. Since then they have been there for me in good times and bad, including the time I tried to take my own life. In that dark moment they reminded me how much I mattered and that my life had purpose. To this day, whenever I’m struggling they are always there to lift me up. And when I succeed, they stand by my side with great pride.

Today I am a senior at North High School and not only am I doing well in school, but I am going to graduate this year. I am also a 2012 recipient of the Mayor’s Youth Award given to students who have overcome challenges in their lives. This honor includes a college scholarship that will help me attend college and fulfill my dreams – dreams that would not have been possible without Colorado UpLift.

When I first started UpLift my freshman year, I was the quiet kid who sat in the back and didn’t do any work. I hung out with the wrong crowd and would turn in my assignments practically blank - I just didn’t care. But that didn’t stop Mr. Adrian, my UpLift mentor, who was determined to get to know me. He constantly asked me to join him at UpLift activities. I slowly warmed up to the idea, and started spending time with Mr. Adrian and the other staff at UpLift, and it changed my life.

I grew up in a single parent home, where my mom was raising three boys on her own. My dad divorced my mom when I was very little and was absent from my life. I love my mom, but I didn’t have a male role model to teach me how to be a man. When I started UpLift, my life was at a fork in the road. On one hand I was spending time with a friend who was a negative influence, and on the other I was spending time with UpLift and Mr. Adrian learning about integrity and accountability. Mr. Adrian would pick me up from my friend’s house, and we both knew I was doing things I wasn’t supposed to be. But Mr. Adrian kept showing up; he was the first consistent male role model I ever had. We became extremely close and now I consider him a part of my family.

Last summer my dad got in a life–threatening motorcycle accident, and it was a really trying time for me. While I didn’t want to see my dad die, I also had a lot of anger toward him because of his absence in my life. Mr. Adrian taught me how to forgive my dad and accept him for who he is. We are slowly working on having a relationship, which happened because of the support and life lessons I’ve learned from Colorado UpLift. This year, I was the first in my family to graduate from high school and go to college. I am grateful for UpLift’s help in becoming the man I want to be and a leader to my younger brothers. UpLift guided me away from a path of destruction. I tell Mr. Adrian you don’t have to be blood to be family, and UpLift is a part of my family forever.

When I was seven years old my family left Somalia and came to the United States with hope for a better life. While coming to America was a dream come true, as poor African refugees in a new country, there were significant language and cultural barriers we now had to overcome.

When I was ten years old I was introduced to Colorado UpLift. I still remember the sense of belonging I felt in class and it wasn’t long before a friendship formed between myself and my UpLift mentor. Beyond the UpLift classroom my mentor encouraged me to play sports and helped me get involved in soccer. It was then I realized how athletic and competitive I am, and over time my self-esteem increased tremendously. I know today that the confidence UpLift instilled in me along with the character qualities we studied helped me make the right decisions in my life, keeping me away from drugs and gangs.

While UpLift has given me a lot, perhaps the greatest gift has been the opportunity to give back. As a high school junior I currently mentor elementary school students in the “Little Lift” program. This is the very same program I was in when I first got involved with UpLift almost six years ago. Having been in their shoes, I fully understand how important positive role models are to these kids and the difference I am making in their lives. In addition, knowing how much they look up to me is a very powerful motivator and a great incentive for me to be careful with the decisions I make. Little Lift also allows me the opportunity to demonstrate everything UpLift has taught me by serving as a mentor for younger kids.

Next year I will graduate from North High School and have a lot of decisions to make before then. I enjoy many different sports, play the saxophone and have a strong interest in photography. With everything UpLift has given me, I know I’ll be successful no matter which path I choose.

My birth mother was unable to raise me because she had me when she was only 16. I was adopted by my parents at a young age who have done so much for me, even to this day. In my early schooling years, I acted out in any way I could, I was the school class clown.  I was kicked out of some of my classes and could care less about what people thought about me. But once I entered seventh grade, I was enrolled in Colorado UpLift and had a life-changing experience. It was the first class I had where adults and teachers cared for me. In UpLift, I had a name and I wasn’t just a seat. They took me to my first basketball game; actually UpLift was there for a lot of my firsts. They were able to help me become a leader in my school. I became the captain of the school basketball team and I was able to come back into some of my other classrooms. The things that I saw negative in my life they were able to see I could turn it into positive. 

I lived my life different because of UpLift. I didn’t want to disappoint my UpLift leaders; I was connected to them and so many others and I didn’t want to let them down. My senior year my birth mother passed away from cancer, UpLift helped me understand my relationship with her and that it wasn’t her or my fault how life had happened. I am grateful for the time that my birth mother and I had together even though we did not have the mother daughter relationship from day to day.

After my senior year I really felt like I had a passion to work with people after my time in UpLift. From LittleLift and coaching at rec centers, I learned I loved work with young people. I figured out I wanted to give back because someone gave to me. If you can be that one caring person and give to others, then they can turn around and do the same for someone else. When I started working at UpLift I didn’t feel like it was a job, I felt like it was what I was called to do. I could now give to anyone the same way I was invested in. My heart is invest in the young girls who are lonely and lost because I was once that girl.

My dad left when I was three years old, moving to Germany with the military and leaving my mother, myself and my sister behind. My sister died not long after from an aneurysm. Both of these losses affected me deeply. My mom was working three jobs which meant I was home alone much of the time. I began to forge a lifestyle of running the streets with my friends getting high and selling drugs. When I did go to school, I didn’t go to learn. Class was boring to me but I enjoyed the social environment of ‘hangin’ with my friends.

Then I heard about a summer jobs program sponsored by Colorado UpLift. I heard they were helping kids get good jobs-not just fast food jobs- but jobs at places like Jeppesen and other great companies. I got up every day during my spring break and attended UpLift’s training classes. It changed my perspective I could get a job and I was really proud of myself for going. It was there that I met UpLift staff member Mike Riley and I started learning UpLift was more than a “do good” job placement program; UpLift was more like a positive family. I learned that the world was bigger than the four walls of the projects I grew up in.

By then I was on a completely different path. I graduated from high school, attended college and started helping Mike as a peer counselor with his UpLift caseload. I felt like my purpose was becoming clear. I wanted to help change the lives of kids in the hood, just like my life was changed. I began to give instead of take. I met my wonderful wife Susie Q and have been married for 15 years and have three wonderful boys and a little girl.

My purpose has evolved into a life vision that has led me to become a full-time staff member of Colorado UpLift. But UpLift is not simply a job for me. I view myself as a leader on a mission to liberate every urban kid held captive by hopelessness.