The Challenge Foundation Helping Young Scholars Build A Better Future
Don McFall’s work with nonprofit organizations that give a hand to those in need was gratifying, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that much more could be done when it came to breaking the cycle of poverty.
His dream was to give motivated kids from low-income families a better crack at personal and economic success by enabling them, starting in middle school, to be educated at highly rated, accredited, private college-prep schools and, following their high school graduation, to continue at the college of their choice.
McFall, a real estate developer, and his wife, Janis, gathered a group of like-minded individuals and in 1998 established The Challenge Foundation. It was launched with the enrollment of one sixth-grader at St. Mary’s Academy.
Today, The Challenge Foundation has partnered with four more schools: Graland Country Day School, Colorado Academy, St. Anne’s Episcopal School and Kent Denver School. It also has expanded to include branches in Phoenix, Ariz., and El Paso, Texas, for an enrollment of an estimated 200 scholars.
“He saw many needs that weren’t being met, especially the whole middle school to college to career plane,” executive director Holly Dichter says of McFall. “So, he put all the pieces of the puzzle together and formed The Challenge Foundation.”
Patrick Byrne, who joined The Challenge Foundation as chief executive officer in January following 20 years with Denver Kids and Denver Urban Scholars, explains that each of the foundation’s scholars are matched with mentors and advisors, establishing deep and long-term relationships that benefit both the scholars and their families.
Mentors are asked to commit for seven years, during which time they meet with their scholars twice a month in addition to having weekly communication with them. “A college degree and time are our two biggest requirements for mentors,” Dichter says. “The time they spend with their scholars includes engaging them in activities and opportunities the scholars might not otherwise be able to experience.”
Challenge advisors also engage with the scholars, helping them with things like preparing for SAT and ACT tests and completing college applications. A mandatory summer program offers academic growth and enrichment activities.
Ninety-five percent of the scholars finish high school, and 90 percent of the high school graduates are on track to graduate, or have graduated, from college.
Success stories abound among the graduates. One is a consultant for Deloitte in New York City; another is a physical therapist. A third graduate is the alumni engagement officer for Regis University, and another is the membership coordinator for Rocky Mountain PBS.
While The Challenge Foundation sees to it that scholar families aren’t burdened with tuition and other expenses, they are asked to contribute something, even if all they can afford is $10. Some of the partner schools underwrite 100 percent of the tuition; others offer a heavy discount, with the foundation paying the balance.
The Challenge Foundation is funded through donations provided by individuals and family foundations. It also hosts one “friend-raising” event each year, a breakfast where potential supporters can learn more about the program and how to become involved. The next such event is on June 13 at St. Mary’s Academy; reservations are required.
The breakfast isn’t a fundraiser per se, but attendees are asked to consider a donation. In 2022, the guests were so impressed that they contributed more than $1 million.
The Challenge Foundation
4545 S. University Blvd., Englewood
Joanne Davidson is a frequent contributor to Colorado Expression.