By Glory Weisberg
Summer for some kids going into fourth through 12th grades in the Denver area inner city can mean “hanging” with gangs or getting an education focused on negative behaviors and a future that too often points to dropping out of school before graduation. It’s a battle being fought right here in Denver’s urban poor neighborhoods.
There to turn the tide is the Porter-Billups Leadership Academy at Regis University.
They are serving high achieving at-risk kids who attend a three-week, six hours a day program featuring academic coaching, conflict resolution, life skills and manners, and the encouragement they’ll need to overcome their at-risk profile to not only graduate from high school but for some, to also continue their education at Regis University.
According to Regis University President John P. Fitzgibbons, nearly 100 percent of students who finish the summer Academy program have graduated from high school since the program began in 1996. Academy Scholars receive full tuition if they choose to attend Regis. Six of the 2014 Academy graduates will attend Regis this fall and to date, there are 94 Academy alums. For more numbers note that since the first class in 2002, more than 98 percent of students finished high school on time.
The program is named for Lonnie Porter, Regis Basketball coach and NBA hero, Chauncey Billups, and on July 26 they attracted more than 400 supporters to their annual gala. They walk the walk and talk the talk, Billups telling diners that where he grew up in Park Hill there was a lot of violence and gang activity, “very different from what it is today.”
Porter’s daughter, Staci Porter-Bentley, was honored in 2007 by then-Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper with the Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award. A chip off the old block, as the saying goes, she is a PBLA co-founder and the director. This threesome has received numerous accolades.
Founding sponsor Bob Willis said the academy is “leveling the playing field for kids growing up in poverty.”
Flossie O’Leary and Randy Holliday are Academy advisory board co-chairs and Gregg Harper chaired the dinner’s live and silent auction committee.
The Saturday night dinner was part of the weekend of Academy activities with a golf tournament at the Cherry Creek Country Club, July 28. Golf tournament sponsors were Faye and Dr. Reggie Washington, Judge Robert “Beau” Patterson, Mike Shaw, John Nilles, Paul and Dayle Sherrill, Gretchen Smith, Glenn Carrington, Richardo Patton, Bill Brabble and Josh Kroenke.
According to Academy sources, “all faculty and board members exhibit qualities found in Regis University’s Mission Statement: “Inspired by the Jesuit Catholic ideal of Ignatius of Loyola, Regis University challenges students to make intelligent life choices, search for a just existence through their respective disciplines and ultimately answer the question, “How ought we to live? Through a values-centered education that emphasizes commitment to community service and civic engagement, Regis University is educating students to be leaders in service to others.”