UpLift students embody passion and perseverance towards academic and professional success. They inspire us to keep going, keep moving, and to believe in something bigger. These are their stories.
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My name is Lorena Zamora, and I first became involved with Uplift when I was in fourth grade. I was in the Little Lift program where High School students would visit our classroom once a week and teach us about different character qualities and life skills. I didn’t realize how important the mentoring program was until I became a High School mentor myself. I began to feel a sense of accountability in being a positive role model to the kids who looked up to me. I saw how easy a child could be influenced at such a young age; and how crucial it was for them to see something different then what they had been exposed to growing up.
Many of the kids I mentored along with myself had been growing up in a community where gang violence, drugs, and teen pregnancy was normalized. Most of us had never met anyone who had gone to College in our community or family. I made it a goal to become the person they knew that went to College from their community. I could not have reached my goals without the help of my teacher-mentors who guided me through the whole college process. They encouraged me and believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. They guided me with writing my College essays, applying for Scholarships, and prepared me with life skills essential to be successful. One of my teacher-mentors unknowingly filled the role of one of the only positive male figures in my life at the time.
When I graduated High School, my teacher-mentor drove my mother and me 2 hours away for me to register for my first College semester. I also had a positive female teacher-mentor who took me under her wing and taught me everything she could about professionalism. I remember her roleplaying with me over the phone the night before one of my first interviews. She was up late helping me practice my answer to the famous “why should we hire you?” question. Although these seem like just average milestones that most teens go through, it meant the world to me that I had a teacher-mentor to guide me through what my single mother couldn’t. Thanks to the program I am the first of my family to graduate High School and College.
I graduated from the Metropolitan State University of Denver last year with my Bachelors Degree in Social Work. I am currently working at Victim’s Advocate. I am also working for a Real Estate Brokerage firm that works primarily with first time home buyers as well as the Spanish speaking community. I am passionate about empowering and advocating for marginalized communities. My teacher-mentors helped me find my voice and power; I hope to do the same.
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.
I am a native of Denver, CO, raised by my grandmother. My grandmother was a maid; a foster mother and she raised most of my siblings and cousins. With more than 10 people (mostly children and teens) in our home at one time, we were the epitome of what society called “at-risk”. All of us had parents who were so broken that they were unable to care for us (from drugs/alcohol to other issues that kept them from being full time parents). We were poor, we had limited hopes, we had no vision, and we were quickly sinking into a destructive mentality. For me, this included autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and reading, writing and math learning disabilities.
My grandmother (single with only a 4th grade education) had known poverty her entire life. She did not have the means to provide us with the motivation we needed to push past the situation we were born into. That is where Colorado UpLift came in. My UpLift mentor, Mike Riley, put me in a position to learn, coach, and teach others the specific life skills that I would need to change my life. He trained me to look introspectively, and he gave me the hope and inspiration that I needed to persevere.
I am a teacher today because someone took the time to reach out to me and help me to see something of value in myself. As a special education teacher, I hope to inspire my students and to close the achievement gap for them in the way it was closed for me. I will always remember that I am experiencing this lifetime dream because someone took the time to reach out to me.
My name is Toby Romero. I come from a family of five and grew up in the south side of Denver, Colorado. I have three brothers, Amado, Rodney, and Isias. I never had a relationship with my father because he left me and my mom at a young age. My mother’s name is Michelle. Growing up definitely hasn’t been the easiest. Since an early age I was forced to grow up way faster than I should. I was forced to take care of my three brothers by the age of 12. This consisted of feeding them, clothing them, and making sure they got to school. At the time, my mom was addicted to pain pills and consumed by the urge of always wanting more.
Throughout my life there have been many instances that have changed my life, including the way I think. Before I had actually been introduced to Uplift and Kevin something happen that would change everything for me.
It was my thirteenth birthday and I can remember it like it was yesterday. We had just got done eating dinner and cake. It was time to clean up and clear off the table and end the night. Of course it was my birthday so I didn’t have to do anything. My mom was washing the dishes at the time and I can see her really slouching. I went over to talk to her because I knew something was wrong. When I went over to speak to her she started falling in the sink. I began to ask her what was wrong. All I heard back in reply was a slur of words. Slur after slur after slur. She just kept denying that any of what was happening wasn’t true and that she’s okay even though half of her body was in the sink. Seeing what I saw just kind of opened my eyes to the realness of drugs and this world.
Once I got into high school is when Colorado Uplift really started to impact my life. My UpLift teacher at the time really helped steer me towards the right direction. He, in actuality, took me under his wing by teaching me how to become a man. I owe a lot of who I am today because of the way he presented himself and taught me. Colorado Uplift opened up my eyes to the beauty of this world. Not only did they introduce me to this huge world, it helped give me the confidence to be more than what I felt like I was supposed to be in life. I’ve experienced camping trips, summer camps, fishing, boating, and so much more. Not only did I have the time of my life, but it helped me find my inner kid. Self discovery really began as a result.As of right now I can tell you that I probably wouldn’t have made it through high school without the life experiences Uplift introduced me too. I was pushed to always strive for more. I’m 24 years old now. I’m on my way to being a banker at Wells Fargo and going to school to study business. I owe much of my strong mentality and diligence to keep fighting back to Uplift. One of the greatest things about Uplift is that I gained a lifelong friend in Kevin. Still to this day I continue to grow and learn from him.
My name is Alejandra. I am a senior at Abraham Lincoln High School and the youngest of four siblings. Coming into high school I would have described myself as unsure, damaged, and unworthy, unsure of my identity and worth due to an absent father. “Why am I not enough?” I always asked myself. Being involved in and a part of UpLift, I no longer have to ask myself that question.
My mentors Jacob and Bernadette have impacted my life in a huge way. They were willing to build relationships with me and support me when I needed it most. For the past few years, Jacob has been a father figure to me; he puts his priorities aside and just listens to what I have to say and gives the best advice. Having similar stories of absent fathers, we were able to build a relationship and grow from feelings of unworthiness. Bernadette allows me to see her as a best friend. She has taught me to persevere and what it means to be courageous and independent, and we have learned from one another over time. She has answered late night phone calls, sat with me, and listened to my problems. I’m very thankful to have a mentor like her; I can tell her anything and not feel judged or discouraged. Both Jacob and Bernadette have shown me support in many different ways, and I’m grateful to have built these relationships with them.
Through UpLift I have also been able to challenge myself and experience things I’ve never done before, like whitewater rafting, snowboarding, summer camp, a fashion show, Little Lift, and more. Summer camp was one of my favorites. I got to build relationships with girls from different schools, explore nature, and face my fear of heights by cliff-diving, ziplining, and doing an extreme obstacle course. This was a huge accomplishment since I would have never dared to test my abilities myself.
Little Lift is an opportunity to practice your leadership skills by attending an elementary school once a week and teaching Colorado UpLift’s character qualities to the students. Little Lift has opened up the possibility of becoming a mentor for other young student and being able to transform their lives the way Bernadette and Jacob have done for me. UpLift has transformed me into a better person that accepts who I am, continues to persevere, overcomes challenges, and builds life-long relationships.
My name is Janelle, and I’m a sophomore at West Leadership Academy. Even though my dad struggled with illness for years, his death when I was only eleven was hard for me to accept. My mom turned to drugs and alcohol to cope. Over the next few years, we moved constantly. Since then I’ve stayed or lived in over twenty different places, from homes of relatives to motel rooms to houses that belonged to complete strangers. Some nights I’ve had to take a bus across town in the middle of the night just to find a place to stay.
Before my dad passed away, I was close with my mom, but since his death I’ve watched her turn into someone I don’t know. She has been physically abusive with my siblings, and more than once she’s kicked me out of the place we were staying so she could go party or get high. I couldn’t trust her to take care of me or my siblings anymore. I felt so lost and alone.
After moving back to Colorado, I was thrown into an UpLift class in the middle of my eighth-grade year. There I met my mentor, Abraham, and eventually his wife Lily. One day I was overwhelmed and stressed at my house, so I called them. They came and picked me up and took me shopping with them. On nights where I didn’t know where I would stay, they would drive me around until I figured something out. A few months back, social workers got involved in my situation. Abe and Lily stepped in and offered to be my foster parents, no questions asked. Thanks to them, my siblings and I were able to stay out of the foster system.
When I started out in UpLift, I didn’t think I would graduate eighth grade, but my teacher/mentors kept me on track and helped me get into high school. Through UpLift I even visited a college campus and learned that I want to go to medical school after I graduate.
My life is still challenging. I haven’t heard from my mom in months. But in the middle of the chaos I know I can always rely on Abraham and Lily. I’m so grateful for them and don’t even know how to thank them enough for all they’ve done for me. Thanks to UpLift, I have had all these doors opened for me and I’m excited for what my future holds!