Program helps low-income students raise their chances for success
Megan Coffey Parker didn’t know what to expect when she set foot on the Regis University campus back in 1997 to attend the Porter-Billups Leadership Academy, but she knew she was ready for anything—including a first-day class on ancient Egypt. “The classes were fun,” Parker recalls. “I learned so much.” The best part, though, was that “Coach (Lonnie Porter) was there from day one and instilled in me that I could be a leader and change the world. He sparked an excitement for learning.” He was also there when times were tough. “I was a swimmer in high school, but I have asthma, and there was a point when I was ready to throw in the towel. Coach sent me a hand-written note of encouragement that I carry with me to this day. And when my mom passed from cancer, Coach was the first to reach out.” Parker went on to graduate from Legacy High School and become the first in her family to attend college, receiving three degrees from Regis, including a master’s degree in education. Today she teaches fifth grade.
- Lonnie Porter, who coached the Regis men’s basketball team for 38 years before retiring in May 2015, founded the Lonnie Porter Summer Academy in 1996, inviting 22 elementary-school students from at-risk backgrounds to attend leadership classes for three weeks at Regis University. On March 1, 2006, Denver native and NBA All-Star Chauncey Billups joined his longtime friend to partner in what is now the Porter-Billups Leadership Academy. In 2017, the academy had 190 enrollees. Porter and Billups are the co-executive directors.
How it works
- Youngsters from low-income families are eligible to apply for admission; if accepted, they are asked to participate from fourth through 12th grade. Transportation to and from school is provided for the three summer weeks; students receive six hours per day of classroom instruction in “challenging academics and real-world simulations,” including speaking with respect and dressing for the workplace. “If you give kids the opportunity, they will shine,” Billups says. An academy instructor also works with the seniors to keep them on track for college. Academy grads who have been in the program for seven consecutive years are eligible for full-tuition scholarships to Regis. Porter is proud that 100 percent of his graduates have completed high school and gone on to college or a trade school.
How can you help
- There is no charge to enroll in the academy, but it costs an average of $1,500 a year per student, so cash gifts are welcome. Volunteers, sponsors and auction items are needed for an annual gala at a downtown Denver hotel and a golf tournament presented by Panorama Orthopedics & Spine Center. This year, the tournament is scheduled for July 23 at Cherry Creek Country Club.
PORTER-BILLUPS LEADERSHIP ACADEMY
3333 Regis Blvd.