This issue: Summer 2017

Vela-Moreno Launches College Mentoring Initiative for Woodburn Youth

Alumni Connections

Vela-Moreno Launches College Mentoring Initiative for Woodburn Youth

Gustavo Vela-Moreno (G13) graduated from George Fox just four years ago with a degree in civil engineering, but he’s already fulfilling a lifelong goal.

“I want to do something service-oriented,” he said in a 2009 George Fox Journal article after he arrived on campus as a freshman. “I really want to get involved in things that target youth – things that will encourage them to pursue their dreams.”

In a September 2014 article in the Woodburn (Oregon) Independent, he said, “We want to work with kids, help them see that there’s a bigger world out there, and college can help prepare them for it.” That “we” includes his wife, Alma (Barajas) Vela (G13), currently in her first year of teaching first grade at Washington Elementary School in Woodburn.

Now those plans are coming to fruition with the launch this spring of ReNew, a community initiative in their hometown of Woodburn. It will focus on mentoring college-bound high school seniors the summer before they enter college, then throughout college, utilizing young professionals in the area who will support and encourage them.

The initiative was inspired by the Act Six program Vela-Moreno participated in while at George Fox, which seeks to equip emerging urban leaders to return to their communities as agents of change. Since 2007 George Fox has annually offered full-need scholarships to a small group of multicultural students from high schools in the Portland metro area.

The son of Mexican immigrants, Vela-Moreno is giving back to a community that is now 60 percent Hispanic. And, he’s set quite an example for others to follow. Salutatorian of his high school class with a 3.9 grade point average, he earned not only an Act Six scholarship but also a Gates Scholarship through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He also secured a $10,000 Beat the Odds scholarship from the Stand for Children Leadership Center.

These scholarships allowed him to complete college debt free, including a two-year graduate program at Stanford University, where he earned a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering in 2016. Vela-Moreno puts his degrees to good use as a facilities analyst with Marion County (Oregon), mostly working in Salem, where he helps with the design and planning phases of capital projects and provides facilities assessments for current structures, focusing on maintenance, operations and five- to 10-year improvements.

In April, Vela-Moreno was invited to share his story at George Fox University’s 125th anniversary celebration. At times he had the capacity crowd near tears – then smiling and applauding.

“I remember the encouragement I received, the level of investment of faculty and staff and the community,” he says of his time at George Fox. But it was his parents, he says, who set him on his current path: “I knew the sacrifices they made to give me opportunity.”

Now it’s Vela-Moreno’s turn to give that same opportunity to the next generation.

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