Ali Guerrero was struggling in school and thinking about dropping out. As a last resort he enrolled at WestSide High School his sophomore year, never imaging what a life-changing decision that would be.
At WestSide, Ali met GEAR UP coordinator Sheena Zacherele. GEAR UP is a federal program designed to prepare low-income students to succeed in postsecondary education. Sheena convinced (badgered, coerced, pleaded with) Ali to attend a Washington Business Week program offered at Western Washington University the summer after his sophomore year. Wenatchee Rotary Club sponsored the trip.
Once on campus for Business Week, Ali says he decided to get out of his comfort zone and talk to the other kids and what he heard surprised him. “They had goals. They were eager to do things. They took pride in their accomplishments,” says Ali. “I looked at myself and I hadn’t done anything. I didn’t even feel like I deserved to be there.”
Ali decided to change.
“He said it changed his life,” says Sheena. “We were shocked.”
When he returned to school that fall as a junior, Ali began to push himself. He set goals. He decided to become an excellent student. He began succeeding in his classes, earning credit, and feeling for the first time that he belonged in school. The summer of 2013 he attended Business Week again and returned to school as a senior with a higher level of inspiration.
“He came to me,” says Sheena, “and said I want to be a part of something. I want to do more. What can I do to be involved?”
They decided to start a Leadership Club. With Ali as president, club membership grew. Ali found himself doing things he never thought he would do: speaking at Lions Club and serving as a role model for younger students.
Ali began applying for college.
“When I started applying for colleges and scholarships I was like, man, I actually have things to write about,” says Ali. “I’ve actually volunteered. I’ve actually been in clubs.”
Ali applied for a Wenatchee Rotary Scholarship. Rotary member Marcia Henkle served on the scholarship committee. “Ali is a rare individual who made a huge impression on the scholarship committee,” says Henkle.
His application said, in part, “I am going to college, I am going to graduate, and I am going to be involved. I am forever changed!”
Wenatchee Rotary presented Ali a scholarship of $4,400 each year for four years of college. In college, Ali plans to major in science.
Ali will travel to Washington, DC in June as part of a GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy. Ali was selected as one of 30 students across the nation for the Academy. Sheena nominated him for a highly competitive, 12-month leadership training program.
“Coming to WestSide was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life,” says Ali. “I struggled a lot in high school. I felt alone. Then once I came here I excelled. I feel really grateful for having an alternative school like this. The staff is so awesome. I love my teachers and I love my school.”
Ali Guerrero isn’t the kid he used to be. He is, in his own words, forever changed.
Teri Fink is the Communications and Community Relations officer for the Wenatchee School District.