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OJC Press Release ID: 2668

Friday, May 26, 2017

OJC student honored as Colorado ASPIRE TRIO Achiever

Otero Junior College graduate Israel “Izzy” Harris was recently honored at the 2017 Colorado ASPIRE State Conference as one of two Colorado TRIO Achievers.  TRIO Achievers are former TRIO participants who have completed their degrees and who are recognized among their colleagues as having a record of achievement and stature.

When Harris joined the TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) Program at OJC in 2014, he was living at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless at Fort Lyon. He had been homeless for three years; struggling with addiction and living on the bank of a river in Denver.  When someone asked if he was ready for help Harris said yes, and he arrived truly ready to accept that help.

Harris began taking college classes on the campus of Ft. Lyon, then began attending them at OJC. When he heard about the TRIO program, he wanted to be a part of it. While completing the Health Navigator Program, Harris discovered his passion: helping others.

As a student, Harris displayed a strong work ethic, made the President’s Honor list and was inducted as a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society.  He went on to complete an associate of arts degree and will transfer to Colorado State University- Pueblo this fall to work on a Bachelor of Arts degree in social work. His plan is to use his life experiences and education to help others struggling with addictions.

In spring of 2016, Harris served as the OJC Commencement speaker at the request of OJC President Jim Rizzuto. Sharing his story is one way Harris believes he can help others.

“I want them to experience what I’m experiencing; which is a joyous and free life,” said Harris. “That’s the gift of what I’ve been working on and will work on the rest of my life.”

That gift has not been squandered. Harris is active in the community.  He visits the local community health center where he talks with individuals struggling with addictions and mental illness to encourage and give hope. In addition, Harris volunteers time to facilitate two group recovery classes at Fort Lyon. An accomplished artist, Harris donated an original work to be auctioned off in support of the Kay Mahoney Memorial Health Scholarship fund. After receiving a scholarship through that program, Harris felt he needed to give back.

“Israel embodies what we hope to see in all students,” said Holly Lewis, director of the TRIO Student Support Services program at OJC. “He does not allow his past to define his future and he makes the choice not only to rise above his circumstances, but to soar high.”

Harris has touched nearly everyone at OJC in his time on campus. His positive energy and drive are sure to continue to impact those around him. There is no doubt that Harris is and will always be an achiever.

Press Release Photo
OJC graduate Israel Harris received a TRIO Achiever award at the 2017 State ASPIRE Conference on April 13.