When Demitria Flores first stepped on the Colorado State University campus, she wasn’t sure she would stay.
Coming from a family where her parents hadn’t completed high school and few of her peers had joined her on campus, Flores felt alone and overwhelmed.
“When I first came to CSU, I had a really hard time. I struggled,” said Flores, now a 20-year-old junior majoring in Human Development. “I felt lost and it was a lot to take in. I reached out to a few people from Boys & Girls Clubs and they reminded me why I was there and helped me find resources on campus. Once I found friends and started to be successful, that’s when I really started to enjoy CSU.”
The transition from struggle to success is the premise of a groundbreaking new partnership between Colorado State University and Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver.
“We wanted to develop a partnership that would ensure if a student came to Colorado State University that they would be successful,” said Mary Ontiveros, Vice President for Diversity at CSU. “Entering the university is one thing, but for us, success is really quite another, and we felt that with a partnership we could help to assure that the student success is almost guaranteed.”
The partnership establishes CSU as the first official higher education partner of Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver. That means the university will provide comprehensive support to students during their time as members of BGCMD and wrap-around support for members who chose to attend Colorado State University to ensure success during their time at the university.
Within the partnership, students who participate in BGCMD will be exposed to the idea that higher education is a real possibility for them. They will be given opportunities to engage with CSU’s Access Centers as students and will be provided resources through the Community for Excellence and other support services aimed at increasing student success.
Part of the mission
This charge is deeply ingrained in the overall land-grant mission of the university, according to Amy Parsons, Executive Vice Chancellor of the CSU System, and a member of BGCMD Board of Directors.
“Our missions are so well aligned with one another,” Parsons said. “We both want to provide access and opportunity for all the students in Colorado to be able to understand that higher education is in their future, that they can access higher education, they can be students at CSU, and by partnering with one another, we can help the young students who are members of Boys & Girls Clubs have the tools that they need to see themselves achieving a higher education degree.”
Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver welcome more than 2,000 students, aged 6-18, through its doors each day and provides educational support, long-term mentoring relationships, and college preparedness. The university would like to expand the partnership to work with other Boys & Girls Clubs across Colorado in the coming years, Parsons added.
“Colorado State University’s mission is all about access to quality higher education opportunities,” Parsons said. “That’s also Boys & Girls Club mission, to give young students the tools that they need to be successful in their education, to be successful in their life and the careers that they want to pursue. So I think by coming together in this partnership we can work better together at giving those students the tools that they need both in K-12 and once they come to CSU, as well. We have a very exciting foundation and look forward to what’s to come.”
The partnership with CSU is valuable because it continues to increase visibility of post-high school education to youth in the clubs, according to Tina Martinez, Chief Program Officer at BGCMD.
One such student is Erick Medrano, a CSU junior majoring in Business Management.
A family friend introduced Medrano to the Owen Boys & Girls Club and he grew up attending the Club every day after school – playing soccer and football and establishing relationships that he’s kept to this day.
“What the club means to me back then and now is a home away from home,” Medrano said. “I got really close with the staff members, a lot of them I saw as my second dad, my second mom.”
Medrano names a dozen people at Boys & Girls Clubs who motivated him throughout high school and who remain his mentors.
Roxana Bustos-Flores, a CSU sophomore in Business Management is no different. As she lists the names of the influential people in her life associated with BGCMD and now CSU, she recognizes that she can also become that for others.
“Boys & Girls Clubs was all of that and more for me, it opened so many opportunities; it motivated us to look into higher education,” Bustos-Flores said. “Before we entered Boys & Girls Club we never thought about college. I don’t think students know how much of an impact it was until they are older.”
Activities on and off campus
In an effort to have more students thinking about college, another component of the partnership is bringing high school students from BGCMD to visit the CSU campus in Fort Collins at least twice annually, with opportunities to eat lunch in the residence halls, to sit in a lecture hall and tour the campus amenities so they can envision themselves attending a higher education institution.
CSU Admissions staff will also visit BGCMD locations to share information about college with students.
Daniels Fund Scholar Bustos-Flores now participates in CSU activities to get future students excited about a higher education, and she says the work has been rewarding.
“It’s exciting to see that they want to follow in your steps and they want to go to college and reach their dreams as well,” Bustos-Flores said. “When I heard about the partnership with CSU I was really excited. Personally, I think I needed that coming in: to have people that you know and they know where you come from. Because you can meet new people but they don’t know your background or what you’ve gone through, all the work you’ve put in to be where you are.”
Many students from BGCMD have attended CSU and been successful, but the key to the partnership is that “when we see them off to college that we know there is going to be someone on the other side who is going to support them on that next level,” Martinez said.
“One of the things that has really impressed me is that CSU has great support services for youth of all backgrounds to ensure that they don’t just get to college, but that they are successful once they are there,” Martinez added. “I think that’s exactly what we do for Boys & Girls Clubs members – help them be prepared for college — and it’s a beautiful partnership to hand off to CSU and know that they are in good hands once they get there.”
For Flores, the first day she stepped on campus and didn’t think she’d be able to succeed is now a distant memory. She’s made it.
When Flores graduates in May, she is considering graduate school and plans to work with adolescent youth – particularly middle school students – because she wants to be a resource and supportive person in the lives of youth during their formative years.
She believes that the first-of-its-kind partnership between CSU and BGCMD will help fill the gap for many students, and will change the face of that daunting moment when students arrive at campus for the first time.
“Students will know right away that they’re not alone,” Flores said. “They’ll have the answers and be able to be successful because they’ll automatically have the right resources. The kids that go through Boys & Girls Clubs often don’t have both parents, or a support system, or enough money to think that college is on the table. The partnership will have a huge impact.”