A teacher from Buffalo, New York, helped Kevin Grimes find direction, just by reaching out at a tough moment.
Grimes, a UAF student in history and secondary education, lost his mother in fall 2017. He and his siblings entered foster care in Fairbanks, but he had to leave the home when he graduated from high school the next spring.
He had been accepted to UAF, but where that would take him wasn’t clear.
“One of my old high school teachers from New York got in contact with me, one of my history teachers, just seeing how I was doing, and it just kind of clicked – studying history seemed like a good choice,” Grimes said.
The teacher had heard that Grimes’ mother had passed away. “He found out what happened from some other friends there,” he said. “Buffalo is a really small place, so everyone knows everyone.”
Grimes has also found UAF to be a caring place. UAF admissions counselor Anna Gagne-Hawes helped convince him to try UAF, starting in summer 2018.
“It was something so rare, having a whole community welcome me like that. I knew UAF was for me,” Grimes told the audience at UAF’s Blue and Gold Celebration in February 2020. He was a featured speaker at the annual fundraising event.
At UAF, Grimes joined the Student Support Services advisory council, which advises the university about ways to help low-income and first-generation college students. The council also undertakes projects.
“We’re helping put together a book drive for SSS students, because books around here cost an arm and leg,” he said.
In spring 2020, Grimes was nominated for and received the Spirit of Youth Phoenix Award, a statewide honor given to students “who have been through tough times and rise above it,” Grimes said.
Grimes shared some of those tough times in his speech.
“Outside, we had lived in bad neighborhoods where death and violence were common,” he said of his life before moving to Alaska. “My family and I had gone through many types of abuse, homelessness and mental illness.”
UAF has helped him avoid such paths, he said.
Grimes received a standing ovation, despite having been a little flustered as he was about to take the stage.
“One of my jacket buttons fell off, so just before they called me up, I’m trying to put it back on, oh my goodness,” he said. “I ended up getting it back on just in time.”