Douglas County may be one of the wealthiest counties in the United States, but it isn’t immune from homelessness.
Despite being named the eighth-richest county in the country by Forbes magazine in 2014, last year 910 students in Douglas County …
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Douglas County may be one of the wealthiest counties in the United States, but it isn't immune from homelessness.
Despite being named the eighth-richest county in the country by Forbes magazine in 2014, last year 910 students in Douglas County schools met the criteria for homelessness.
Joe Roos wants those students to know someone believes in them.
"Our intention is to remove any barriers a homeless student would face that would prevent them from getting a post-secondary education," Roos said.
In 2015, Roos founded Hide in Plain Sight, a nonprofit that provides college scholarships to homeless Douglas County students with at least a 3.0 GPA and a desire to pursue post-secondary education. Three $3,000 scholarships were distributed last year, and this year five students received $3,000 awards. On June 16, the group held a reception at the Castle Pines Chamber of Commerce to celebrate this year's recipients and look forward to their future.
"We've already had success in our first year," Roos said, mentioning one recipient from 2015 who now has an internship at Disney.
Roos said his hope for Hide in Plain Sight's future is to "spread the vison statewide" in the next five to seven years. Scholarship arrangements with Arapahoe Community College and the Emily Griffith Technical College are in place, and Roos said more students will be able to attend those schools as a result.
The group raised $50,000 through fundraisers, donations and grants, and the state contributed a matching grant. The funds will be used for three disbursements of scholarships in the coming year, and Roos expects Hide in Plain Sight to expand its reach to Denver, Arapahoe, Adams and Jefferson counties.
He said the group is also adding a motto: Helping Our Puipls Excel, an acronym he thinks is perfectly suited to its goal.
"We want to provide hope," he said.
This year's five recipients of Hide in Plain Sight scholarships share their stories:
Damian Von Frank, 18, Castle Rock
What are the circumstances around your homelessness?
"About two years ago I moved from Wisconsin to North Carolina to live with my mother. We lived in a house where people were doing drugs around me."
Von Frank slept on couches as he and his mother bounced around a few different homes. In one, they stayed with one of his mother's friends who died of an overdose while they were staying there. In another, Von Frank's mother's cousin, who had been physically abusing her, pulled a gun on him.
Von Frank realized he wouldn't stop moving anytime soon and he enrolled in an online high school. In 2015, Von Frank moved across the United States to stay with his girlfriend and her family in Castle Rock.
"I found out about Hide in Plain Sight around January or February. I got an email from Mr. Roos about getting eyeglasses. I can't even remember the last time I had had an eye exam, so I went in and got an eye exam and I got glasses."
What do people need to understand about being homeless?
"For me it's not like living on the street and begging for money. Being homeless is more like being helpless ... Being 16 or 17 you don't have the means or the money to take care of yourself ... Fortunately, along the way I've found good people, second cousins, first cousins, aunts and uncles that let me sleep on their couches."
What are your plans and outlook for the future?
"I'll probably work my job another month, month and a half. I promised my mother I'd visit her before starting school, so I'll visit her in North Carolina then go to Orlando to see my grandparents. Then college starts in August."
Von Frank will attend the University of Tampa, majoring in international business and marketing.
"I think I now have the means to have a really bright future."
Kyle Gallup, 18, Parker
"I grew up in Larkspur and moved to Parker in 2012 ... My dad ended up leaving, so it was just me, my mom and my brother. Then my mom was diagnosed with a condition somewhere between MS and transverse myelitis. It makes it difficult for her to work and for her to hold down a job ... We were evicted from our house in 2012 and moved into an apartment. Then we were evicted from the apartment, then we were evicted from that apartment."
Gallup and his family went from house to house, staying in family friends' basements. He started working at 15 to help pay for gas, bills and food for his family.
"As a society, when we think of homelessness we think of people on Colfax with signs asking for money, but that's not the only picture frame that you can look through... As a kid, I didn't even realize I was homeless, there was always somewhere for us to go, we weren't on the street. Now I realize that one thing could happen and I would be there ... What homelessness is, is not having your own place to call home."
Gallup will leave Colorado in late July to attend the University of Hawaii and play quarterback for the school's football team. He plans to major in business.
"I plan on riding the wheels of football until they fall off," he said.
"It's kind of like a 360-degree spin for me ... I didn't think there was much hope for me, then I realized there were people out there who would help me.... Now I want people to hear my story and know what homelessness looks like, and that there are people out there, even though you may not know them, that genuinely want to help you."
Jessica Reedy, 19, Castle Rock
"My mom had a boyfriend who moved in with us, then they got married and (there were) drug problems, alcohol abuse and some situations that weren't quite right. She worked at night and wasn't home, (I had to) lock my door every night ... It was just a really unsafe environment ... I just decided I couldn't do it anymore. About a week after they got married, I moved out."
Reedy moved in with a friend and her family during her sophomore year at Douglas County High School and stayed there until graduation.
"They were the only people who knew what was actually going on," she said.
"I don't think of having a home as just having a place to live, I think of it as having the love and the nurturing, caring relationships, people who support you and are there for you. Sometimes without that, it makes life difficult. It makes you grow up faster because you have to do all of that for yourself. Even though you may not be on the street, you're supporting yourself ... You're learning to do it on your own because nobody's teaching you."
"I want to be a criminal profiler. I want to get my degree in psychology and forensics, that's what I'm looking at now, a double major, and ultimately a doctorate in psychology."
Reedy just got her first apartment in Colorado Springs, where she will attend the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs in the fall. Being awarded the scholarship, she says, has allowed her to stop worrying about trying to pay for school and focus on what she'll be studying. Reedy said that, for her, the award isn't just about paying tuition.
"It makes me really happy that I feel like other people believe in me too, it's not just myself, and that I have somebody behind me kind of going 'hey, we're behind you' ... It just really makes me happy."
Anonymous, 19, Castle Rock
"I'm living in an apartment on my own in Castle Rock."
Due to family conflicts, he moved out of his parents' house and started out on his own last year. His parents help pay for food and expenses, but he makes ends meet by teaching trumpet lessons and tutoring math.
"Homelessness, I guess, just means that there isn't really a place for you anywhere."
"I'm going to go to the University of Alabama and study math and physics and music. I'm just going to go to college for as long as I possibly can and figure out something to do (for a career) afterwards."
He said he went through a period of depression while he was finishing high school and living on his own, but a school counselor helped him get through it. He graduated as valedictorian of Douglas County High School.
"It just makes me feel a lot less stressed about going to college ... I'm not worried that I'm going to be in debt the rest of my life."
The fifth Hide in Plain Sight scholarship recipient, Alokik Nayyar, was in Canada at the time of the ceremony and was unavailable for an interview. In an email, Nayyar said he came to the United States from India on his own and supported himself during high school.
Nayyar will attend the University of Colorado-Boulder in the fall, majoring in computer science. His scholarship, he said, will be like "food to a ravenous person."
Nayyar said he hopes to graduate and find a career that will allow him to help others the way Hide in Plain Sight helped him.
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