“I feel like I have won the lottery.” That’s what Brian Labra Vergara says when asked about being a Challenge Foundation Scholar. “I may not be the richest person,” he adds. “But I have won something much better—the chance to make something of myself in this world.”
Brian is one of three Challenge Foundation Scholars in Colorado Academy’s Class of 2020. All were identified in elementary school as students with potential and underwent rigorous and competitive evaluation before being chosen by The Challenge Foundation to receive funding to attend an independent school. For these three CA students, the education and ongoing support they have received through the Challenge Foundation have been life-changing.
Brian Labra Vergara
Neither of Brian Labra Vergara’s parents graduated from high school, but they wanted something more for their children. “Ever since I was young, they said ‘study hard, get a good job, make something of yourself,’” Brian says. “‘You have the right to do what you want, and those opportunities will come from education.’” He “vividly remembers” the day the acceptance letter from the Challenge Foundation arrived in the family’s mail. “My mom was so proud that she cried,” he says. “She said, ‘All the hard work was worth it. Now you will get out of school what you put into it.’”
Brian, who is bilingual, chose to attend CA’s Upper School for a variety of reasons. He knew Monika Williams ’19, another Challenge Scholar, who is now studying at Howard University, and she introduced him to the possibilities the school would offer. When he shadowed at CA, he sensed that the teachers would support him as he pursued ideas in different fields. Then he interviewed with Upper School Principal Dr. Jon Vogels, and the deal was sealed.
“I asked Dr. Vogels if I would ever be limited at CA,” he remembers. “I said, ‘If I have enough art credits to graduate, would I have to stop taking art?’ And he said to me, ‘Of course not. We will work with you to develop a program.’”
In spring 2020, four years after taking his first-ever art class during Freshman year, Brian presented the culmination of his CA art studies at his Senior Portfolio Show. He was also the student director for The Addams Family musical performed by the Upper School. He took French at CA, adding a third language to his repertoire. “I’m not perfect at it,” he says, laughing. “But I do have French in my arsenal now.” He was a CA Summer Camp Counselor, beloved by his young wards. He also participated in REDI Lab, the innovative program that allows students to focus on one area of study for a trimester.
“I love being creative, because there is no limit on creativity,” he says. “It’s everywhere, in painting, acting, directing, digital media, graphic design.”
Brian will attend Skidmore College. He would like to be CEO of his own company, a dream made possible by The Challenge Foundation. “They are the most amazing people I have ever met,” he says. “They work day and night, and they have transformed so many lives and families through what they do. I am so grateful I had this opportunity, and that I have made as much out of it as I could.”
The idea of a private school had never entered the mind of Sergio Hernandez’s parents until the Challenge Foundation made it possible. Today, he looks back on his years in Middle and Upper School at CA and says simply, “It’s the best education.”
Sergio knew from the day that he shadowed fellow Senior Chris Wachuta that he was headed to CA. “I was immediately accepted,” he says. “I felt like I belonged right away.” But, he acknowledges, making the transition from his elementary school in Aurora, Colo., was not easy. “Everything was different—including, first off, CA has an actual campus!” he laughs. “I realized how much work I would have to put in to advance my education.” At CA, he found teachers who were willing to help him succeed. “The teachers care,” he says. “I am so thankful that I could always talk with them and trust them.”
He had been at the top of his class in elementary school. True to the name of the foundation that brought him to CA, he says he “needed a bigger challenge” academically, and at CA he found it. Bilingual, he advanced his study of Spanish. He also played soccer and lacrosse, went canoeing on the Green River in Utah for Interim, traveled to Florida to study marine biology, and, during his Senior year, traveled to Spain with a group of CA students. “I had never been to Europe,” he says. “It was so exciting, and I felt very comfortable there.”
The Challenge Foundation was with him every step of the way, and he has never forgotten it. “They are family,” he says. “They saw potential in me, and it’s my job to prove to them that what they saw is there. I put it on myself to never let them down. I did that for them, because they were going the extra mile for me.”
Sergio also gives credit to his parents for his success. He remembers how they got up early to get him to the bus stop and helped him with school work. “There was a time when I worried that the academics at CA were too hard, and I didn’t know if I had it in me,” he says. “But they always knew I could go far.”
Sergio says his favorite part of CA is the school community, because it has allowed him to “stay true to my roots.” He is filled with pride that his next step will be Colorado College (CC). “If I had not had a Challenge Foundation Scholarship and come to CA, I never would have managed to go to CC,” he says. “I put in the hard work, and now it has paid off.”
Sebastian Parra Estrada
Sebastian Parra Estrada hopes to someday own his own fashion design business. If his sense of style originates with his identity, he can credit The Challenge Foundation and CA for helping him discover who he is, starting in Grade 6 when he came to CA.
“I made friends easily, even though I was new and a minority student,” he says. “CA is a welcoming place, and CA made it even easier, because racial issues were discussed openly, and I could feel comfortable with my identity.”
Ask him about his favorite part of CA as he prepares to graduate, and he doesn’t miss a beat. “The people are my favorite,” he says with a big smile. Sergio and he will be friends for life, they agree. They have become as close as brothers.
Sebastian is bilingual and studied French at CA. He raves about the many opportunities he has had in the past seven years, including lacrosse, soccer, and kayaking on Interim. HIs interest in fashion design was reinforced by participating in the Senior Portfolio Program where he discovered a passion for painting. He also praises his teachers at CA, because they “truly care” about each student.
“You don’t feel like CA teachers are just working for a paycheck,” he says. “They are so nice and always there for you.”
None of this would have been possible without The Challenge Foundation, which has provided more than just the opportunity to attend CA. There has been what Sebastian calls the “extra stuff,” like school books and even a computer charger. He also praises the community of Challenge Foundation Scholars who know each other and get together for summer programs, led by Foundation staff. “They are mentors for us,” he says. “It’s like you have a guardian angel flying by your side with eyes on you—in a good way.”
It is hard to believe that he is already a Senior, Sebastian says, and preparing to head to Colorado State University. Today, he says “I own who I am. I am me.”
And for that achievement, “Thank you to CA. Thank you to the Challenge Foundation,” he says. “I would not be here without them. There is no way I can pay them back, but I will try.”