Estakio Beltran ('05) is engaged with the plight of orphans.
By Marcine Herron (’05)
Despite having lived in 70 foster homes before completing high school, and never daring to dream of college, 2005 Gonzaga graduate Estakio Beltran has only just begun his journey.
He came to Gonzaga on a Washington State Achievers Scholarship, a program established by the Washington Education Foundation four years ago that enables students who might not otherwise afford a college education to realize their potential.
At Gonzaga Beltran has done just that. He has become an exemplary spokesman for the plight of orphans, and worked this past summer for an Illinois senator, pushing hard to get the Federal Tuition Waiver Program – which he developed – enacted in Congress to help fund college education for foster children.
He plans to study Arabic and teach English as a second language. Law school at Harvard or Yale will be his next educational pursuit, he says.
Beltran was placed in foster care as a toddler, and declared an orphan at age 13. Stability and long-term relationships were absent from his young life. He strived to be the “best little boy” he could, hoping a nice family would adopt him and provide him with the love and care he had only dreamed about.
Then, at age 17, as Estakio prepared for yet another move and another school, his high school counselor at A.C. Davis in Yakima, Wash., Jim Rigney, went to bat for Beltran. He found math teacher Julie Barker at his school and her Presbyterian pastor husband Steve to take Beltran in as a foster child. The fit was right.
“They are such kind and caring people, opening their hearts and their home,” Beltran said. “I had never been treated so warmly before. Their care really stabilized my life.”
While studies show that less than 42 percent of children in foster care graduate from high school, Beltran graduated with a strong GPA and SAT score.
Enter then-GU admission counselor Jim Schauble, who encouraged Beltran to apply. Beltran found it difficult trusting Schauble at first. But Schauble worked with Rigney to seal the deal.
“I can’t take credit for recruiting Estakio,” Schauble said. He credits Rigney, a supportive Gonzaga staff, but mostly, Beltran himself.
“He is obviously a very special person. He deserved it,” Schauble said.
Now Beltran considers Gonzaga his first long-term placement, in foster care vernacular. “I wouldn’t be anywhere without the help of so many people at Gonzaga,” he said.
Beltran credits Adjunct Professor Anthony Bonanzino, a member of Gonzaga’s Board of Regents, with providing a vision for his future.
“Tony encouraged me to never settle for what everyone does. Don’t be mediocre at anything. Excel. Figure out what everyone expects of you and exceed it,” Bonanzino told Beltran.
Exceed, he has. Experiencing both the blessings and misfortunes of foster care, Beltran is working to improve the system so others in similar situations will be better off than he.
“Estakio has a tremendous amount of energy and he loves being involved, he loves talking to groups and he loves sharing his story,” said Bonanzino. “He has contributed to a lot of people. Sometimes I don’t think he even realizes the contribution he makes.”
As a representative for the Orphan Foundation of America (OFA), he speaks and advises on foster care and minority student issues around the world. As a participant at the OFA 2002 OLIVER Project in Washington, D.C., he met with members of Congress and spoke on behalf of education benefits for foster youth.
He was awarded the prestigious Golden Tennis Shoe award by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., for outstanding citizenship, and honored by GU in 2003 for his volunteer work. Beltran, who is a mentor intent on helping students finish high school and beyond, said he is excited about the next chapters in his life’s journey. A spiritual soul, he feels he wouldn’t be here without the existence of a Supreme Being in his life.
“God was the only thing I could cling to,” he said. “Yes, we did get in fights. But He kept providing the next person who would take me to the next stages of my life,” says Beltran. “Like the miracle of Jim Schauble showing up at the right time and the right place.”
And the blessed journey continues.