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CNM Sky Warriors Help Students Who Have Aged Out of Foster Care Transition to College

June 22, 2016 -- For the past year, seven CNM student veterans who participate in CNM’s Sky Warriors program have been ballooning on Saturday mornings, learning new ways to cope with the transition from military to civilian life.
CNM Sky Warriors Help Students Who Have Aged Out of Foster Care Transition to College

Jun 22, 2016

Now, these Sky Warriors are teaching 14 young people who are exiting New Mexico’s foster care system how to be members of a hot air balloon chase crew, while sharing some of the same personal, life-strengthening insights the veterans gained themselves in ballooning as a team.

“The vets and foster children have a lot in common,” said David Walker, a Vietnam War era veteran, a CNM student, a Veteran Resource Center Administrative Coordinator and a Sky Warrior. “Quite a few vets come from broken homes. They can relate to the trials and struggles of the kids who have moved from one foster home to another. The young people are survivors but also have trust issues – just like many of the vets.”

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Those participating in CNM’s new Sky Scholars program range in age from 15 to 24. They were recommended to the program by New Mexico Child Advocacy Networks (NMCAN), which advocates for the young people who age out of the foster care system.

The vets are helping the young people enroll at CNM, providing guidance on registration, self-reliance, time management, responsibility and new sets of social interactions. The goal is for all of the Sky Scholars to be registered at CNM as students by the Fall Term.

The Sky Scholars are also learning leadership life skills in a 10-week course facilitated by CNM Dean of Students Rudy Garcia. They are developing a feeling of camaraderie, something that the Sky Warrior veterans rediscovered by participating in the team-oriented ballooning program.

Leonard Shephard, who was in the Army for 20 years and is a disabled combat veteran, CNM student and UNM Taos Upward Bound Coordinator, noted that the Sky Warriors and Sky Scholars are designed to be perpetual programs. Once they have completed the training, they will become mentors to those who follow.

The veterans of the Sky Warriors program are encouraging the Sky Scholars in other ways, as well. They recently supported an art show and sale held at NMCAN. The Sky Scholars made the art and sold it.

“Many of the veterans bought artwork site unseen,” Shephard said. “We’ve put much of it in the Veterans Resource Center to show how proud we are of the Sky Scholars.”

Diana Myklebust, balloon pilot and administrative coordinator for the Dean of Students, said the Sky Scholar program is off to a great start. “Both groups are very dedicated to this collaboration,” she said, adding that it takes discipline and dedication to be at the balloon site at 5:30 a.m. on Saturdays. “They are learning quickly.”

She and her husband Randy Myklebust pilot the balloon on which the students train.