Our winter retreat this year was truly one of a kind from singing karaoke, hiking, bonding, workshops on community issues, to bonfires and dance parties. Check out this video to see what some of our graduating seniors had to say about the program and pictures from an unforgettable weekend!
January 21st proved to be an eye-opening experience for various communities throughout the United States due to the Women’s March. One such community that participated in the Women’s March on Denver was the DU Puksta Scholars Program as a result of the annual Puksta Foundation Intercollegiate Retreat taking place that weekend. Scholars from DU and four other universities marched in support of various communities that have been marginalized following events that have taken place over the last couple of months. For many scholars, the Women’s March was their first community action. “It was amazing to be able to see so many people take the time out of their day to come together and express their opposition to the marginalization of various communities,” said Larcy Brooks a fourth -year Puksta Scholar. While for many scholars the Women’s March on Denver proved to be the highlight of the weekend, there was still an entire retreat to attend.
Following the Women’s March, Puksta Scholars from every university came back to the Wells Fargo building on Lincoln Street to partake in various seminars in order to build skills and develop closer relationships with their counterparts from different schools. Roudy Hildreth, the Puksta coordinator for the University of Colorado (CU), officially kicked off the retreat with a seminar challenging every scholar to focus on the story of themselves, their Puksta project and attempting to frame the story in a community perspective. Furthermore, CCESL’s very own Ryan Hanschen introduced scholars to the concept of a One2One and encouraged scholars to engage with their roommates in an attempt to better get to know each other. Finally, Katharine Worms of Colorado State University led scholars in an activity highlighting identity and the idea of socialization throughout one’s own life.
The characteristic that makes Puksta different from other scholarship foundations is the sense of family and belonging. This was demonstrated on Saturday night through the alumni panel which included three DU and one CU alumni who provided current scholars with their insights into “life after Puksta.” This proved to be a useful experience for many first-years, including Oscar Saenz who said, “I am truly grateful and humbled to be a Puksta Scholar after seeing what previous scholars have gone on to do from a community organizing perspective. Puksta really is a lifestyle.” Following dinner, all of the DU Puksta Scholars went to Lucky Strike to play various arcade games, compliments of the Puksta Foundation. Sunday morning had a more somber and relaxed tone due to the fact that various scholars realized that the retreat was coming to an end. A presentation provided of self-care and mental awareness was led by Cody Wiggs, another DU Puksta alumni. This presentation provided helpful insight into how scholars can take care of themselves and channel all of their energy into focusing on the things in front of them rather than getting caught up on things in the future.
Following the presentation of self-care and awareness, Puksta Foundation President John Mulstay addressed the scholars with words of wisdom about the retreat along with the history that was made the previous day at the Women’s March on Denver. Scholars rejoiced and celebrated what was arguably the most successful Intercollegiate Puksta Retreat to date.
Our amazing scholars at CSU put on a very special event to showcase the work they have done with their projects. It was a beautiful and inspiring night, where potential future scholars and outside guests were given the opportunity to learn of the wonderful work these scholars are doing in our communities. David Purcella presented on his work with children who have disabilities and introducing them to service dogs. When the two connect it helps them overcome their struggles and gain confidence. Eduardo Hernandez expressed his passion for having a place for kids to go after school and how much that had help him growing up with parents working. Bailey Cross talked about her upcoming production of “The Blank Monologues” for the second year in a row!!! The enthusiasm and excitement in the room left for a very heartwarming and fulfilling evening.
Our Annual Winter Retreat was full of surprises and lessons this year!
During our Annual Winter Retreats we teach scholars lessons in telling their stories. We also work with our scholars to provide them with the tools they will need to make effective change in our communities.
Ironically, the Women’s March on Denver fell on the same weekend as our intercollegiate retreat and we thought… What better way to teach civic engagement than to jump right into the middle of it! So, we revised our agenda and let the scholars observe and/or participate in in the march. It was a first march for many and became a great learning tool to show how powerful community organizing can be!
Over the course of the weekend our scholars also went through many workshops to help them grow and build upon their strengths. The workshops included Public Narrative, Identity, Building Your Resume, and Self-Care General/Mindfulness.
The Mindfulness Workshop was led by one of our own Puksta Alumni, Cody Wiggs (DU ’11). Cody is now serving as the Executive Director of Empowering Education. Empowering Education Inc. is a non-profit organization that offers comprehensive Social & Emotional Learning (SEL) programming, professional development, and implementation support in K-8.
We enjoyed a delicious dinner at Maggiano’s and were touched by the words and advice that was given by our graduating Puksta Scholars from each of our 5 partnering universities.
It was a wonderful weekend with many hugs, laughs, tears and sometimes deep introspection. But the most beautiful part of all was to see the family bond that forms between the scholars.
My passion for higher education access for black males started when I was a senior in high school. I was making the decision on what college I was going to attend and unfortunately, while this would have seemed like one of the happiest moments of my life, it was actually one of the most disappointing. This was around the same time when I found out that some of my black friends were not going to college and I began to notice all the obstacles that many black students and other minority students face when it comes to attending an institution of higher education. For me, this situation was very hard to understand because I always thought that everyone had the same opportunities when it came to getting a college education. Shortly after that time, I began to feel somewhat disconnected from my friends because I had this feeling that our lives were going in two different directions, and I felt that there was nothing I could do to help them.
Now, when I look at the process that took me to get to college I realize that the scholarship that I received from the Puksta Scholars program is one of the main reasons why I am even in college and specifically at DU. The Puksta program has really helped to give me the tools and the support I needed to really chase my passion and strive to make a difference for many black students. One of the main parts of our Puksta program is our projects and currently my project is working with higher education access for black males. I chose this project because the demographic of black males is a group that I identify myself as and the social justice issue area is one that I can connect to many of the experiences that I have had in my life. During my first year, I really had no idea how to start my project and I learned that if you really want to make change you have to talk to the people who you are trying to help and then you find out what they view as the underline problem. So in my first year, I went to South High School every Friday and I mentored a few of the black males. My experience with these males taught me so much about my issue area and it also taught me that there are so many problems that have to be tackled in order to see the type of change that we are all dreaming about. Another part of my project during my first year came when I got the opportunity to sit on the planning committee for the Black Male Initiative Summit (BMIS).
My involvement with BMIS gave me the chance to come into contact with more black males and it helped me to actually have a part of a program that was specifically geared toward my social justice area. While I learned so many things in that first year with BMIS I also knew that there were a few ways that the program could be expanded and improved. So now, during my second year of college, I have been able to work with BMIS to really expand the program. We have added a second day to the annual summit that is held on DU’s campus and we have begun to develop partner school relationships. By adding the second day to the summit we are now able to teach the students and their family what types of questions they should ask colleges and why it is important to actually visit colleges.
I felt that it was important for us to develop this part of the program because I had noticed that many of the black males that I mentored never actually went to visit the campus that they were going to attend.
DJ Close is one of our Alumni and Advisory Board members. He works with United Way as a Program Manager for their Reading Corps program. They were in the Denver Post for their extreme success that the program is having with children and literacy. Congrats DJ and keep up the great work!
Marco Dorado, a Puksta Scholar at CU, made it into the Colorado Daily. He is an advocate for undocumented students, and is a true inspiration.
“I think the mark I want to leave at CU is for it to be a place of inclusion,” he said. “Before I came to CU, I was just kind of living in the shadows. When I got here — people looked beyond my status. It’s not just about being a place of inclusion for people who are undocumented, but for those who come from all kinds of different backgrounds. I want this to be a place about valuing people for who they are as opposed to judging them for things that are out of their control.”