Kids shine despite challenges

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“I think that dreams are possible,” says Sophie Ramirez, who is on her way to proving just that.

Ramirez says she struggled to get where she is today — a recent graduate of Heritage High School with a perfect grade-point average on her way to Colorado College and a career in veterinary medicine, thanks in part to South Metro Housing Options.

She and four other bright young women were honored during a ceremony at SMHO on July 24, recognizing them for winning the agency’s annual scholarship.

“This is one of the highlights of the year,” said Dan Burnham, SMHO executive director. “We had a lot more kids this year, so the competition was pretty stiff. It’s really awesome to see these young people going forward.”

Low-income students throughout the area the agency serves are invited to submit an essay about their career plans; it’s not necessary to be an SMHO client. Students at vocational and technical schools are welcome to apply, as are parents in SMHO housing who are learning new job skills or obtaining college degrees. They’re required to have at least a 2.5 GPA and attend school full time. Since its inception, the scholarship board has provided more than $80,000 in college assistance.

The program also awards kids for perfect attendance at all grade levels, so Cleve Wortham, president of sponsoring corporation Arapahoe County FirstBank, has watched some of them grow up during his 20 years on the board.

“It’s great to see what, we think, makes a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “Especially some of the students we’ve been able to help and see them from start to finish.”

This is the second time the board has been able to help Tam Dang, who just completed her freshman year at the University of Colorado-Denver with 4.0 GPA. She’s pursuing a bachelor’s degree in pre-med, inspired by the care that her mom, Yen Pham, received during a bout with cancer.

“I’m very proud of her,” said Pham, as her daughter interpreted. “I hope she will be persistent in pursuing her major.”

Dang advised the younger four students to do the same.

“It would really help to have a clear goal in mind in college and follow that path,” she said.

That won’t likely be a problem. Kate Armon, for example, graduated from Heritage with a 3.7 GPA and is on her way to Arapahoe Community College to work toward becoming a teacher.

“It’s important to learn and understand everything you can, and to help others do the same thing,” she said.

Her teachers say HHS graduate Allison Kuhlman likes to be challenged, which will be a big asset on her path to becoming a civil engineer.

“I’m really excited to go to (Colorado State University) and grateful to continue my education,” she said.

Anna Abalos’s mom has no doubt her daughter will be successful.

“She’s so accomplished and so structured,” she said. “I know she’ll do very well, because she’s got that work ethic. I’m very proud.”

So far, so good for Abalos; she graduated from Littleton High School with a 3.8 GPA.

“It’s most important, I think, to work hard and never give up on yourself,” she said.

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