For the past 16 years, Gloria Heyer has taught the lessons of life to a group of students she now calls family.
Tamara Garcia, Vanessa Garcia Navarro Martinez, and Lily Montoya say graduating from high school use to not be a priority when they were younger. Those feelings all changed thanks to Heyer.
"If it wasn't for her, I would have dropped out of high school," Montoya said.
"She was always on my case about studying, homework and things like that," Navarro Martinez said.
Heyer is a mentor with Byrne Urban Scholars. The program is designed to help at risk teens graduate from high school and get into college. Heyer says the mentor/mentee relationship is an important one.
"It is very important that it is not parents or family members but there is someone else that they can go to, that cares about them, loves them and wants them to succeed," Heyer said.
Bryne Program Director Amanda Brown knows Gloria offers more than advice to teens.
"She comes from a place of respect, and I think that immediately gets students attention," Brown said. "That even though she is an adult and in some ways in a position of power or authority being the mentor in the role, that's not how she sees it. She really sees it as the beginning of a friendship."
"It is more than mentor, mentee relationship," Heyer said. "We are friends. I have tremendous respect for them."
"She's always somebody I can talk to, even about the small stuff," Garcia said.
Their relationships have grown over the years.
"She's always been there for me, for my family through thick and thin, the good times and the bad times," Garcia said.
Heyer says most of the growth has been in her students. Today, Vanessa and Lily are in college. Tamara has her degree and spends her time giving back to her community as a Registrar and Assistant Admissions Director at Arrupe Jesuit High School in Denver.
"I definitely aspire to be someone like Gloria," Garcia said. "I don't know I'm there yet, but I definitely look forward to that."
There are those certain people who touch us, shape us, make us who we are. Her students say Heyer has taught them the lessons of life. She says she has gained from them as well.
"I'm extremely proud," Heyer says with tears in her eyes. "Very proud of all of them"
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