Denver Scholarship Foundation scholar comes full circle

DENVER — Making college a possibility for thousands of Denver Public School students is the mission of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, which is celebrating its 15-year anniversary this month.

That’s 15 years of Denver students showing what they can do when given the opportunity.

One of the first scholars from 15 years ago, Derrek Sandoval, has been a success story that has come full circle.

“At a very young age, my parents instilled in me you are going to college,” Sandoval said. “We don’t know what that looks like or how we’re going to pay for it, but it’s something that you’re going to do”

Fifteen years ago, Sandoval was a student at Denver’s John F. Kennedy High School.

“I was kind of a teacher’s pet kind of guy,” he said. “I played varsity baseball for years. So, kind of the athlete, jock.”

He had a dream of going to college, but making that dream a reality wasn’t going to be easy.

“Derrek was one of my students at Kennedy and very much a joy to work with,” said Renae Bellew, who has been with the Denver Scholarship Foundation from the beginning and remembers Sandoval’s potential. “I’m just proud that I was able to be part of his journey.”

For Sandoval, Bellew’s support and a Denver Scholarship Foundation scholarship were life changing.

“She literally navigated the entire college going process for me,” Sandoval said. “Without them, I wouldn’t have known what to do at all.”

He went on to graduate from Colorado State University, and, eventually, he came full circle. Now, he is an assistant director for the foundation that changed his life.

“Denver Scholarship Foundation is college, and they make it possible,” he said. “I’m still here today for that reason because I want to be that for my students.”

Students like Rosselyn Gurrola, a senior at Denver’s CEC High School, are also dreaming of the possibilities.

“I would be the first in my family of cousins, uncles, aunties, the first ever to go to college,” Gurrola said.

She says Sandoval’s support has helped her navigate the world of college scholarships and applications.

“He’s always helped me through every single question I’ve had, and I have, like, 10 questions in one minute. He’ll sit down and answer every single one,” Gurrola said.

Making dreams a reality isn’t easy. But for Sandoval, making a difference is his dream come true.

“The best day of the year for me is graduation day or college decision day,” he said. “It’s really powerful when students tell you where they’re going to school. I want to help them navigate this and really be that mentor to help them achieve their career aspirations and their educational goals.”