Scholarship fund expands to award two local students for the first time

By Megan Wadding, September 2017 Issue.

The QU Scholarship Fund was started in 2012 by Kevin Axx and Dr. Shel-Don Legarreta, both avid supports of one•n•ten.

Each year since, the fund has presented one recipient with a $10,000 award over a two-year period. In return, recipients must complete a modest community requirement and each scholar is paired with two mentors that they meet with on a quarterly basis over the two years.

“We both felt that something was needed to help the youth with post-secondary education,” Axx explained. “We thought we’d raise a few thousand dollars to help a worthy student go to college. Little did we know how generous the community’s response would be and how big a need there was for a program such as ours.”

Donations for the scholarship come from a combination of community members, local businesses and national corporations. According to Axx, a significant amount is raised through individual donations, through donors who offer matching opportunities and through small community events, such as pool parties and cocktail parties that are underwritten by the hosts.

In previous years, there has only been one QU Scholarship, but this year Axx said that the overwhelming community support the fund received allowed them to offer two scholarships for the first time.

This year, Kelsey Williams and Baileigh Thompson, both from Phoenix, were named the QU Scholarship recipients and were presented their checks at the one•n•ten Fresh Brunch in February.

“They are both shining example of today’s LGBT[Q] students pursuing their dreams and giving back to our community,” Legarreta said.

As they are each year, Legarreta said he and Axx are “honored and humbled” to help the recipients of the scholarship with their “academic and professional dreams.”

As part of the award, Axx explained that the recipients are “paired with an academic mentor who helps them navigate the sometimes-daunting freshman year of college and also a professional mentor, who is usually a community member that is in, or is very familiar with, our scholars’ prospective field or major.”

The mentorships, he added, were instituted as a way to maintain contact with the scholars and to ensure that their college years are a success.

“We have given out seven scholarships in the the past five years. Six of those scholars continue to be enrolled in school full time, completing their degree programs,” Legarreta said. “Most are very involved with campus and community LGBT[Q] programs. Most have been enrolled in their respective honors program or been on the Dean’s list. We are looking forward to their continued successes as they graduate and make a difference the communities in which they live. We are positive they will go on and do great things in the future.”

Kelsey “KJ” Williams.

Kelsey “KJ” Williams

“Kelsey Williams is a vivacious young woman attending Glendale [Community College] this fall to study social work and communications. She has been very active in one n ten and hopes to work in the nonprofit sector to aid LGBT youth in the future. They are both shining example of today’s LGBT students pursuing their dreams and giving back to our community.” 

– Dr. Shel-Don Legarreta

At the age of 15 Kelsey “KJ” Williams came out to her friends, an announcement that was met with overwhelming support. When she came out to her family at age 16, however, her world fell apart. She was sent off to conversion therapy, and was later kicked out of her house.

“I lost my relationship with my biological family as a result of coming out,” she said, “but I gained a chosen family, which is more than I could ever ask for.”

Williams said she applied for the QU Scholarship after coming to the realization that if she wanted to further her education, she would need outside help.

“one•n•ten is always giving us opportunities to better ourselves and the QU Scholarship was one of those opportunities,” Williams said. “As someone who has been financially independent for years, a post-secondary education seemed out of reach for me. Going to school on a scholarship really validates my identity and goals, there is nothing that sounds better than that.”

After having lost the support of her family, Williams said she had stopped pushing herself in life, but added that applying for this scholarship was the hardest she had pushed herself in a long time.

According to Williams,  the application process required three letters of reference, including at least one one•n•ten staff member; a series of essay questions, spanning multiple topics, each with approximately 300 word answers; and an interview.

“My favorite question was about my fears regarding the presidential candidates at the time of the application,” Williams said. “The interview was set up with you, and members of the QU Board. My interview personally lasted [about] 30 minutes. We discussed my application, going more in detail with some of my answers, as well as some more personal issues and goals in my life.

When a board member called Williams to inform her that she was selected, she was extremely surprised.

“As someone who was an average student, with no education in the past four years, I thought the likelihood of winning was slim to none,” she said.  “I know I have a lot of opportunities that I’m very grateful for, but this one above all I was most humbled by. As grateful as I was to be the recipient, I spent a lot of time celebrating internally. The support that came after the announcement was tremendous. Although I may have been given the giant check, the real battle isn’t over until I graduate.”

Williams said she doesn’t believe she would ever have been able to attend school without having been a recipient of this scholarship. And, other than the scholarship itself, she said it was amazing to learn how much effort is put into each scholar.

“Along with the scholarship, I have been assigned a mentor to help me through this two year journey,” she said, adding that she’s please to be paired with someone who has had a successful career down the same path she hopes to go on.

“This was the push and help I needed to start my post-secondary education and better myself, opening more opportunities for my future,” said Williams.

Williams started at Glendale Community College in August and aims to graduate with her Associate’s Degree in 2019, and then will attend Arizona State University to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications. Williams is considering a “a million different careers,” and believes that a communications degree will allow her to explore those options.

“The only thing I know for sure is how much I want to give back,” said Williams. “Organizations like one•n•ten, Joshua Tree, and Habitat for Humanity have changed the course of my life. I understand that it is now my job to change others’ lives in the way those before me changed mine. Wherever my career leads me, as long as I am doing that, I will feel fulfilled.”.

Along with a certain set of academic goals, Williams said that, as a recipient of this scholarship, she must complete 40 hours of community service each semester, which she thinks will be the easiest part for her.

“Serving the community is where my heart finds itself most happy, so there will be no problem there,” she said. “I have every intention in the world to use my education to make a difference in our community.”

Baileigh Thompson.

Baileigh Thompson

“Baileigh Thompson just graduated from high school this year,” said Legarreta. “She started a program at her school to help teen LGBT student have a safe space to discuss any issues they may be having. She is attending ASU this fall to study neurosciences and is interested in studying the neuroanatomy/neurophysiology of the transgender brain.” 

– Dr. Shel-Don Legarreta

Baileigh Thompson, a 2017 graduate of Bourgade Catholic High School, was welcomed and accepted by her family and friends upon coming out at age 17.

“I am so fortunate to have such an amazing group of parents [and] friends,” she said. “My mom said that she’d love me no matter … All of my friends are incredible people and I’m very lucky to have them all.”

Throughout high school, Thompson was very active. Not only was she in every honors and AP course, but she was also an AP Scholar in her senior year, president of the National Art Honors Society, a member of the National Honors Society and in various other clubs and organizations.

Thompson first heard about the QU Scholarship through the West Valley one•n•ten group and, upon researching the cost of attending a university, decided to apply.

“Honestly, I didn’t think that I made that much of an impression and I thought I was far too nervous to have said anything interesting enough to have the honor of winning such an incredible scholarship,” she said, adding that she was shocked to find out she had been chosen.

Along with winning the scholarship, Thompson said she also is grateful that she gained a professional mentor.

“[We] get to work with those who are currently in the field we want to be in, and I think that’s such an amazing opportunity and experience,” she said. “… the QU Scholarship has done absolutely everything they can to make sure we are both secure and successful in our futures.”

In August, Thompson started her freshman year at Arizona State University’s West Campus where she will be studying pre-med and psychology.

“I will graduate from ASU in 2021 and hope to get into a good med school, then work as a researcher in neuroscience and psychology to hopefully get a better understanding of the brain and help those with mental illness,” she said.

Thompson credits her mother for her drive toward her goals in the medical field, adding that her long-term goals is to eventually work for Mayo Clinic.

“I became interested in neuroscience when my mom [was diagnosed with] two brain tumors and experienced countless strokes, all before the age of 45,” she explained. “I would like to figure out the cause of this, and explore the brain and how it functions. Especially in a mental health sense, as I feel this is still very stigmatized and needs to be treated like any other part of the body would be.”

While Thompson’s mother, offered to attempt to pay for her education Thompson did not want her to feel obligated, due to her condition.

“She has a multitude of medical bills that are far more important,” Thompson said. “I thought applying {for this scholarship] would take the stress off of both of us.”

Thompson added that she sees this scholarship is an investment in her future.

“By being able to gain an education without debt, I will be able to get further in my career without being held back [financially],” she said. “The professional mentors are … [there to] tell us the ins and outs of what to expect in our future careers. Having someone like that in close relation is an incredible help.”

Still, the best part of being selected as a QU Scholar, Thompson estimates, is the community that came along with it.

“I love working with others in the LGBT[Q] community and being given this opportunity to meet so many people within the community,” she said. “I will use the scholarship to the best of my ability.”

The application period for 2018 QU Scholarships will open Dec. 1, 2017 and must be completed and submitted with all supporting documents no later than Jan. 31, 2018. For more information, visit azfoundation.org/scholarships/applyonline.aspx