Elevate students and Teacher Mentors embody passion and perseverance towards academic and professional success. They inspire us to keep going, keep moving, and to believe in something bigger. These are their stories.


Charles Taylor, Teacher Mentor



Elevate Navajo


Wendy, Elevate New York


Brandan, Elevate Orlando

Monique, Colorado Uplift 

Teacher Mentor Spotlight: Charles Taylor, Elevate St. Louis

When the whole world was plunged into the COVID-19 pandemic, Elevate St. Louis experienced a 40% decrease in funding and had to say goodbye to two-thirds of the Teacher Mentor team. When something like this happens, it stands to reason that the number of students in Elevate classrooms will have to decrease also.

However, Charles Taylor, an Elevate St. Louis Teacher Mentor, was unwavering: “I don’t want to drop any kids. I want our first-ever class from 2018 to experience Elevate Beyond. They deserve it.” Elevate Beyond is the final Elevate course for seniors, it is focused on planning and preparing for their future – college, trade school, military, and career prep, as well as developing a mindset for what comes next in their life. This is the class that concludes a student’s time with Elevate and sends them off into the world with the tools they need to succeed.

The 2021 school year started with 60 students in four classes, and Charles delivered the Elevate Beyond curriculum for the first time. The year started with hope and good intentions, but they didn’t factor in how far McCluer High School students’ general behavior had descended as a result of the pandemic. Multiple fights in the building happened daily and often right outside the classroom door. Not to mention a new group of 18 wild freshmen students.

Charles knew they were in over their heads. But his relentless commitment to helping his students paved the way for him to show up in the unique ways they needed.

So he held 1:1s with students who were in the most need.

He hosted Elevate St. Louis students and their friends during the midday advisory period and modified it to serve as a small group session and personal development session for boys.

He modified lesson plans to meet the needs of his students. He designed character studies for popular movies. Charles asked his students to name the Elevate character qualities and life skills they saw in each movie’s main characters and then draw parallels to their own lives and how they want to grow those character qualities and life skills in their own lives.

Charles worked closely with Special Education staff to ensure two of his seniors who were special education students received the support they needed. Both students graduated last May.

He challenged several students to seek drug counseling for their marijuana addictions and he was personally responsible for one senior student’s reduction of marijuana use. That student stayed in school, improved his grades and earned his diploma last May.

Truth be told, Charles was on the edge of burnout for much of the school year, but he refused to reduce the amount of time he invested in student relationships, knowing there was too much at stake. He did this while keeping pace with his husband and father duties at home and continuing coursework towards a masters degree.

Fast forward, and this is how the 2021-22 school year ended:
– Charles’ efforts made it possible for his first class of students from August 2018 to join the McCluer High School 2022 graduating class.
– He led the first offering of Elevate Beyond and guided his seniors through a scaled-down version of their senior project.
– He won over his freshmen class. All of them want to enroll in Elevater 1 and participate in Cross-Age mentoring during the upcoming school year.
– He has raised up a new crop of “sons” among his freshmen class who love to be in his presence.

Charles Taylor, led by his unwavering values and beliefs, and supported by the love of his wife, Coretta, gave his all to advancing his calling and craft of being a Teacher Mentor.

This is why Elevate USA is thrilled to give the Calling, Character, & Commitment Award to our Teacher Mentor of the Year: Charles Taylor. Charles, your heart for mentorship inspires us all. On behalf of the entire Elevate network: thank you for leading the way.

Lorena Zamora

My name is Lorena Zamora, and I first became involved with Uplift when I was in fourth grade. I was in the Little Lift program where High School students would visit our classroom once a week and teach us about different character qualities and life skills. I didn’t realize how important the mentoring program was until I became a High School mentor myself. I began to feel a sense of accountability in being a positive role model to the kids who looked up to me. I saw how easy a child could be influenced at such a young age; and how crucial it was for them to see something different then what they had been exposed to growing up.

Many of the kids I mentored along with myself had been growing up in a community where gang violence, drugs, and teen pregnancy was normalized. Most of us had never met anyone who had gone to College in our community or family. I made it a goal to become the person they knew that went to College from their community. I could not have reached my goals without the help of my teacher-mentors who guided me through the whole college process. They encouraged me and believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. They guided me with writing my College essays, applying for Scholarships, and prepared me with life skills essential to be successful. One of my teacher-mentors unknowingly filled the role of one of the only positive male figures in my life at the time.
When I graduated High School, my teacher-mentor drove my mother and me 2 hours away for me to register for my first College semester. I also had a positive female teacher-mentor who took me under her wing and taught me everything she could about professionalism. I remember her roleplaying with me over the phone the night before one of my first interviews. She was up late helping me practice my answer to the famous “why should we hire you?” question. Although these seem like just average milestones that most teens go through, it meant the world to me that I had a teacher-mentor to guide me through what my single mother couldn’t. Thanks to the program I am the first of my family to graduate High School and College.

I graduated from the Metropolitan State University of Denver last year with my Bachelors Degree in Social Work. I am currently working at Victim’s Advocate. I am also working for a Real Estate Brokerage firm that works primarily with first time home buyers as well as the Spanish speaking community. I am passionate about empowering and advocating for marginalized communities. My teacher-mentors helped me find my voice and power; I hope to do the

Erik Cruz

In the middle of my sophomore year in High School, I realized my life was never going to be the same again. I was in and out of the shelter system for three years. The lack of a stable living environment caused me to make poor decisions. I was involved in gang violence and resorted to drug use for happiness and relief. That year, we moved out of a scatter sight that we were living in for over two years, which was the most stable we had ever been. We were moved three times in one year. Finally, my aunt decided to let us stay in an abandoned basement apartment near the utility closet and boiler room until my mom was able to save enough for our own apartment.

One day, during spring break, my mother was working at her 
minimum wage paying job in a grocery store. My younger brothers were in the care of a family friend. I was home alone. The bed I was laying on lacked a frame and bed sheets. I slept on a bare mattress on the floor. It was 9pm, when I heard footsteps in the apartment. I knew no one should be home for hours, so I ran to the bedroom door and locked it. As I was in my room, I remember being scared for my family’s safety. When I finally got in contact with my mom, she rushed home. When she returned from work, we searched to see what was missing. My brother’s three-speed bike had been stolen, and one of the three doors outside of the basement’s entrance was broken.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone. I felt scared and ashamed. 
The only thing that was running through my mind was that how I was going to protect my family. I cried each morning heading to school, and faked a smile once I walked in the building. Then one day, I confided in my teacher and mentor of a program called Elevate New York. Their mission is to build long-term, life-changing relationships with urban youth. I realize that day, that I need someone to talk to. I felt she could relate to me, that I could trust her, and that she would care enough to help. When I told her my fear of going home in the evenings, she helped me convince my mom to move out. I realized I was getting a second chance, and I was not going to give it up. I took advantage of all of the opportunities Elevate New York was offering. In doing so, I was able to participate in different public speaking events to share my story. I’ve been exposed to places such as the Hamptons, Washington D.C., and eating at 5-star restaurants. I’ve been able to teach elementary school students once a week the same leadership skills that I was learning daily in my Elevate class. Lastly, I attend bi-weekly trips to a company in Times Square called Instinet to learn about how the leadership qualities and life skills we learn in our Elevate class can be applied in a work environment.

I’m sure my story is not much different than many of my peers in my community. Many students are able to thrive in school despite the struggles that they face at home. I feel like being a part of a program that has exposed me to successful people, new experiences, and the skills I needed to learn to rise above my situation. This has encouraged me and empowered me to aspire to more in life. I am confident that my negative experiences will serve as a reminder that I want to do more, I want to be better, and I want to make a difference in the next generation. College would be the next opportunity to continue on my journey to become successful.

Rhonda Richmond

I am a native of Denver, CO, raised by my grandmother. My grandmother was a maid; a foster mother and she raised most of my siblings and cousins.  With more than 10 people (mostly children and teens) in our home at one time, we were the epitome of what society called “at-risk”.  All of us had parents who were so broken that they were unable to care for us (from drugs/alcohol to other issues that kept them from being full time parents). We were poor, we had limited hopes, we had no vision, and we were quickly sinking into a destructive mentality. For me, this included autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and reading, writing and math learning disabilities.

My grandmother (single with only a 4th grade education) had known poverty her entire life. She did not have the means to provide us with the motivation we needed to push past the situation we were born into. That is where Colorado UpLift came in.  My UpLift mentor, Mike Riley, put me in a position to learn, coach, and teach others the specific life skills that I would need to change my life. He trained me to look introspectively, and he gave me the hope and inspiration that I needed to persevere.

I am a teacher today because someone took the time to reach out to me and help me to see something of value in myself. As a special education teacher, I hope to inspire my students and to close the achievement gap for them in the way it was closed for me. I will always remember that I am experiencing this lifetime dream because someone took the time to reach out to me.

Toby Romero

My name is Toby Romero. I come from a family of five and grew up in the south side of Denver, Colorado. I have three brothers, Amado, Rodney, and Isias. I never had a relationship with my father because he left me and my mom at a young age. My mother’s name is Michelle. Growing up definitely hasn’t been the easiest. Since an early age I was forced to grow up way faster than I should. I was forced to take care of my three brothers by the age of 12. This consisted of feeding them, clothing them, and making sure they got to school. At the time, my mom was addicted to pain pills and consumed by the urge of always wanting more.

Throughout my life there have been many instances that have changed my life, including the way I think. Before I had actually been introduced to Uplift and Kevin something happen that would change everything for me.

It was my thirteenth birthday and I can remember it like it was yesterday. We had just got done eating dinner and cake. It was time to clean up and clear off the table and end the night. Of course it was my birthday so I didn’t have to do anything. My mom was washing the dishes at the time and I can see her really slouching. I went over to talk to her because I knew something was wrong. When I went over to speak to her she started falling in the sink. I began to ask her what was wrong. All I heard back in reply was a slur of words. Slur after slur after slur. She just kept denying that any of what was happening wasn’t true and that she’s okay even though half of her body was in the sink. Seeing what I saw just kind of opened my eyes to the realness of drugs and this world.

Once I got into high school is when Colorado Uplift really started to impact my life. My UpLift teacher at the time really helped steer me towards the right direction. He, in actuality, took me under his wing by teaching me how to become a man. I owe a lot of who I am today because of the way he presented himself and taught me. Colorado Uplift opened up my eyes to the beauty of this world. Not only did they introduce me to this huge world, it helped give me the confidence to be more than what I felt like I was supposed to be in life. I’ve experienced camping trips, summer camps, fishing, boating, and so much more. Not only did I have the time of my life, but it helped me find my inner kid. Self discovery really began as a result.As of right now I can tell you that I probably wouldn’t have made it through high school without the life experiences Uplift introduced me too. I was pushed to always strive for more. I’m 24 years old now. I’m on my way to being a banker at Wells Fargo and going to school to study business. I owe much of my strong mentality and diligence to keep fighting back to Uplift. One of the greatest things about Uplift is that I gained a lifelong friend in Kevin. Still to this day I continue to grow and learn from him.

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