EAGLE COUNTY — Mike Johnston is a big believer in YouthPower365’s mission to provide scholarship programs that aspire to create success for every child.
But he also wants to see his friends get down.
That’s why the Vail native and gubernatorial candidate has agreed to take time out of his busy schedule to emcee the annual YouthPower365 Star Dancing Gala at the Vail Valley Jet Center.
“Part of being honored (at the Star Dancing Gala) is you’re actually taking a huge risk, to come out and dance in front of 1,000 of your closest friends,” Johnston said. “The environment is unlike any other event that I go to … It’s an event that you have the best of the spirit of the valley, which is a group of people who are closely bound together, who are deeply committed to making sure everyone in the valley has the same chances.”
‘PEOPLE DON’T TRY TO IGNORE’
Growing up in Vail, Johnston saw first hand the necessity for groups such as YouthPower365.
“I found that even in a valley like Vail, where people think everything must be great, you see some of the widest disparities of any place in the state,” Johnston said. “You have real profound inequalities, and real, real need, and what I love about the Vail Valley is people don’t try to ignore that, they don’t try to brush it under the rug, they actually say ‘No, let’s do something about this.'”
After graduating high school, Johnston set out to join those people he was inspired by, who were trying to help close the opportunity gap for local kids. He helped start an organization that gave summer school opportunities to low income families, mostly Spanish speaking families, in the valley who wanted their kids in summer school, but didn’t have access.
“I went and knocked on people’s doors in the trailer park and spoke Spanish and asked them if they wanted to come join summer programs,” he said.
Years later, working as a high school principal, Johnston was able to help get 100 percent of his school’s seniors accepted into four-year colleges.
“And then we found out that about half of our seniors were undocumented, which meant they couldn’t go without paying out-of-state tuition,” he said.
Trying to fix that problem is what inspired Johnston to run for Senate. He became a state senator in 2009, and in 2012 his ASSET Bill was passed, allowing students not legally entitled to be in the United States to pay in-state tuition at Colorado colleges and universities.
“When we looked, we found that the county with the highest percentage of students that were undocumented in the state is actually Eagle County,” he said. “That’s what I love about (YouthPower365’s) work, they’re really dedicated to making sure that all kids’ needs are met.”
The 10th Annual YouthPower365 Star Dancing Gala will take place in Gypsum at the Vail Valley Jet Center on Tuesday, July 17.
The public can support the cause by purchasing votes of $10 or more for their favorite dancers online at vote. stardancinggala.com.