When Solomon Chacon left his home in rural Colorado for a new life in Utah, he wasn't thinking about going to college. He just wanted to find a job that paid enough for a person to survive and maybe flourish a little.
When educator and minorities issues leader Alberta Henry met Chacon, education was very much on her mind. His education. And she convinced the young man that he ought to give school a try."She started talking about college, and it was scary," Chacon said. "I am the first professional from a very large family. I didn't even know anyone who'd been to school."
Henry provided moral support and some financial aid. And Chacon started out slowly, with night classes, while he worked during the day. To his surprise, he loved college and did well. And that led to law school and a successful law practice. Chacon is also chairman of the Institute of Human Resource Development.
Helping disadvantaged young people get a good education is a passion for Henry, who in 1967 started a non-profit corporation that has provided financial aid and moral support to more than 200 black, white, Hispanic and American Indian students. The youths are selected based on need, ability, commitment and performance.
Henry laughs when she discusses the "Alberta Henry Education Foundation," a title bestowed by students who received help. "Some students thought I was dead, and they named it after me. Or maybe they hoped, since I'm the one who keeps track of them."
Wednesday, Zions First National Bank gave the project a boost with a $10,000 donation. It is the first corporate donation to an endowment fund board members hope will eventually support 20 students a year. The foundation now provides scholarships to about four students a year with money from private donations.
"We want good students, students with potential," said board member Korla T. Woods, assistance director for the Center of Ethnic Student Affairs at the University of Utah. "But they don't have to be the best and the brightest."
Tyrone E. Medley, 3rd Circuit judge and foundation board president, said that changing a youth's life is sometimes just a matter of showing you believe in him. The foundation targets students who are "financially dependent and have fairly good grades. We are hoping we can get students who might not think of going on to college."
The benefits of helping disadvantaged youths get an education are more than academic, according to Larry Houston, an engineer for Unisys who serves on the foundation board. "It's cheaper to send a kid to college than maintain him in prison," he said. "It's easier to give kids a chance - up front."
For more information on the endowment, or to contribute, write The Alberta Henry Education Foundation, Box 1814, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.