Skyler Kelly

Norwood High School graduate and True North Outstanding Student Skyler Kelly, left, will be starting her freshman year at the University of Colorado-Denver this fall. Betsy Walker of True North Youth Program coached her throughout her collegiate and financial aid application process. (Photo by David Kelly)


The True North Youth Program has reached a milestone this year: five teen participants from Telluride, Norwood, and Nucla have been awarded over $600,000 in college scholarships and financial aid.

True North’s Scholarship Coaching Program targets “diamonds in the rough,” students who are highly motivated to pursue continuing education and whose grades and extra curricular activities set them up for success, but who have limited access to resources and support. 

Many of True North’s students are first generation college applicants and do not have family members at home who are versed in the financial aid application process. The group’s volunteers work closely with individual families to ensure that all federal and state aid has been secured, and act as advocates with college financial aid offices. But True North’s engagement with clients begins years before the college application process.

True North reaches many teens when they first enter high school, offering enrichment programs and activities throughout the school year, including weekly academic tutoring, trades training, career exploration and community service. 

“The program really tees them up to be successful college candidates,” said Vivian Russell, True North’s co-director. “All of the True North activities they do along the way help strengthen their resume, so that when the time comes to apply for scholarships, they are truly a well-rounded individual and a competitive candidate. We are super proud of the young people who are enrolled in college. Their stories are inspiring.”

In 2014, True North coached Amber Furnee, then a Telluride High School student, through the Daniels Fund Scholarship process. True North staff reviewed her application and prepped her on how to be interviewed. She was awarded the Daniels Fund Scholarship and is currently entering her junior year at Eckert College in Florida, where she is majoring in Communications and East Asian Studies. 

The following year, True North arranged an architecture internship with Sante Architects for Luis Silverado Flores of Telluride High School, and helped supply him with equipment he would need (such as a drafting board). Upon graduation, he was awarded a full scholarship to study architecture at Colorado Mesa University. True North continues to track his progress in college, working to assist him in finding tutors for tough subjects and advising him on life skills.

In May of this year, True North awarded its Outstanding Student Scholarship to Norwood High School senior Skyler Kelly who will matriculate at the University of Colorado-Denver to study nursing. “True North has allowed me to follow my dreams of becoming a nurse,” she said.

True North’s mission is to ensure that every teen participant graduates high school with a plan and a path to follow into adulthood, “no matter what their family circumstances or financial background,” Russell said. 

During the school year, True North’s weekly Academic Tutoring program ensures that students keep up their grades. Several tutors are also current teachers; others are physicians, lawyers, business people and retirees. True North also engages students during the summer months, when they are connected with jobs and internships, from Telluride Academy programs to community service projects. This weekend, co-founder Lanier Nelson and incoming co-director Ross Williams will take a group of True North boys to Paradox Valley to finish building a wheelchair ramp, as well as teach carpentry and trades skills. Emmanuel Loya, 16, has given up two weekends of work in a local restaurant in order to participate in the service project. He said: “True North gives me the chance to go camping. I enjoy the hard work and giving back.”

True North encourages both volunteerism as well as employment. According to Walker, who has helped teens apply for scholarships and aid for over 10 years on behalf of local non-profits, “Colleges and employers really like to see kids who have worked. Jobs are critical.”

True North volunteers worked with youth to groom their resumes and provide references, facilitating nine jobs at local establishments, including the Telluride Mountain Market, a historic mesa ranch, the Wilkinson Public Library, a spa, the Floradora Saloon, and Roma Bar and Grill.

“True North teaches real-life skills and prepares you to be an adult” said David Almaraz, who just completed Telluride Academy’s Youth Entrepreneur Summit, where he was exposed to entrepreneurs from the Telluride Venture Accelerator. As part of the program, he had to come up with his own idea for a company — an app that would match people, including their skills sets and schedules, with non-profits who need volunteers. 

“Getting these kids to these places doesn’t happen overnight,” Nelson said, “and it doesn’t happen with just one person. It’s a process. We are starting with kids when they are just transitioning into high school. They are becoming super social creatures; they really want to be hanging out with their peers. Three years ago, we asked ourselves, how do we reach these kids? The answer was to start True North, use the group-mentoring model, work from a lot of different angles, and partner with a lot of other agencies to provide year round, wrap around support. And it’s working.”