By Cory Phare
Zoë Royer was 14 years old when she lost her parents in a murder-suicide, completely upending her life.
“You’re forced to live in the present, thinking about how you’re going to get through the day,” she said. “When you’re stuck in a survival-mode mindset, there’s no chance to think about what’s next or how to get better.”
Uncertainty became commonplace as Royer landed in the child-welfare system, moving among 13 households as a teen. As she neared aging out of the social safety net she had in the foster-care system, the future looked even more unclear, and the tumult from housing insecurity and trauma led her to drop out of high school.
“So many of my peers were experiencing the excitement of planning for college with their families – the application, campus tours, all of it – and I didn’t have access to any of it,” Royer said. “I didn’t have any vision of my future in completing high school, let alone beyond it.”
Then she got a phone call that opened a door for her.
It came from Joseph Roos, founder of Denver-based nonprofit Hide in Plain Sight. The organization provides students experiencing homelessness and basic needs insecurity with comprehensive scholarships so they can complete high school and pursue higher education. The nonprofit’s assistance extends beyond traditional coverage of tuition, fees and books to also budget in considerations such as housing, transportation and child care.
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It was a turning point for Royer. She’d become the initial scholarship recipient as HIPS launched, going on to earn her high school diploma in 2015, then to study Psychology at Metropolitan State University of Denver, graduating in 2019 with a 4.0 GPA. Today, she serves on the nonprofit board of directors for HIPS to give back to others who are facing basic-needs uncertainty.
“I felt at home with MSU Denver’s nontraditional focus, and the HIPS scholarship gave me so much hope that I could actually make something of my life, not just drift through it,” Royer said. “If you’re nervous about your next meal or where you’re going to sleep that night, how are you supposed to focus on a test?”
Hide in Plain Sight has since assisted 237 students, including more than 30 who went on to MSU Denver, with awarded scholarships totaling more than $700,000.
As it looks to extend its advocacy, the organization is hosting Sunday a fundraising gala conceived and comprehensively planned by MSU Denver School of Hospitality students in Professor Andrea Peterson’s event-planning course. In-person tickets for the two-hour hybrid event highlighting scholar-success stories are sold out, but virtual options are still available.
Peterson, whose students helped with HIPS’ first fundraiser in 2016, described this year’s hybrid gala as a post-pandemic industry standard that the 16 students from the senior experience course now will now be able to include in their portfolios.
“One of the benefits of working with a nonprofit is seeing how much of an impact our students can directly have on organizations,” she added. “It’s a great opportunity for them to see how their work is making an immediate difference.”
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For Josephina Carlacci-King, the event is a multifaceted opportunity to make a difference and apply the skills she’s studying at MSU Denver. The Event and Meeting Management senior and team lead for the fundraiser’s promotion-and-sponsorship group described the experience as “eye opening.”
“We’ve had to work twice as hard to accommodate a hybrid event format, but now I’ve got the understanding of how to adapt something like this successfully and expand our reach – that’s a skill I’m able to take with me into any professional setting,” she said. “To be able to put that to use for a nonprofit like HIPS, which is helping to break cycles of poverty through access to higher education, is incredibly meaningful.”
It’s hard to put into words what being the first student recipient of the comprehensive-support scholarship means for Royer, who plans to attend Humboldt State University for graduate study in Cognitive Psychology and Neuroscience this fall.
“When you’re able to rise out of that survival mindset, it gives you hope,” she said.
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She sees her continuing education as an opportunity to continue making an impact in individual lives, as well as advancing female representation in the field, all while pursuing the science and service she loves.
“That (phone call) gave me the chance to come to MSU Denver, get on my feet and figure out the next step. Now, I want to make sure others have that opportunity too.”
Rolling applications for the HIPS comprehensive scholarship are available on the nonprofit’s website.
Registration for the virtual fundraising event Sunday is available here.
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