The Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative (COSI) is a state-wide initiative to help students increase success by increasing their financial support. Our PPCC COSI scholars have shared their experiences during these unprecedented times.

For more information on COSI scholarships, visit the PPCC Foundation page or the Colorado State page.


COVID, Fall 2020

By Ashleann Mercado

COVID. It’s been difficult for a lot of people some more than others, I know I have been affected mentally, but I am grateful none of my family has caught it. I’ll start by saying the amount of shock I was in when I found out PPCC was closing back in March of 2020, but I was glad too. You see my mother suffered from breast cancer before and ever since she has been very susceptible to catching illness, her immune system is weakened due to the cancer treatment, before I had taken a semester off to take care of her through the cancer treatment, so when we began hearing how badly COVID was hitting other countries and when the first case came to Colorado I began contemplating dropping out that semester because the health of my family comes first, but the PPCC made the right choice in switching to online, rather than me having to stop class, I have to say I’ve been lucky I had feared the worse. I remain cautious though, I am a work study so I tend to stay away from people as best as I can and I’m always watching for alerts, I can tell I’m slowly becoming more and more antisocial if I don’t have to talk to people I definitely won’t. I can say though my fellow work studies and I are all germaphobes even before COVID so it came naturally for us to make sure every surface is clean and it makes me feel better that I’m not the only one watching out for the health of our fellow classmates.

By Alesia Snyder

My COVID experience is pretty unique—as I was one of the first COVID cases in Colorado Springs and was diagnosed back in March at the beginning of all of the shutdowns. For me, COVID was incredibly challenging for a number of reasons: I had just started a new job, I was in the final stretch of Spring semester and quickly approaching finals, and although I am young and healthy, my body reacted very negatively to the virus.

It all started in late March with a dry cough, fever, and body pains. Over the first few days, things progressed to where I was so exhausted that I didn’t want to get out of bed until one night when I also began to experience difficulty breathing. The next day I went to my doctor, who was confident that I did not have COVID but tested me anyway, due to a test for strep coming back negative. A few days later, I got my results and sure enough I had it. I continued to rest until I felt better, not that I had a choice as the CDC and El Paso County Health told me that I had to quarantine.

Over the next several months I watched as the virus spread and things continued to shut down. It was a very strange experience for me, given that I already had COVID, because I did not have the same worry of getting it like most others do. I work in the service industry, so it was also interesting to see how my daily work routine was impacted, as well as how things like going grocery shopping or to any public place looked so much different than they ever have before. Looking forward, I certainly hope that we as a country get past COVID quickly, and that things can return to normal. The symptoms I experienced were very severe, so I can say, first-hand, that catching COVID is not something that anyone wants to risk.

By Alyssa Domier

2020 has been one of the craziest years I have lived through personally. I remember ringing in the new year without a mask on, out in public, with way more than 10 people around me, all not within 6 feet. That is crazy to think about now. 2020 is the year I decided I wanted to go back to school, I had graduated from high school in 2017 and never felt fully ready to go back to school until this year. What a crazy idea, right? It’s been so interesting to start off my college experience from my couch in my pajamas every day. When I thought about going to college for my first year, I thought I would be meeting new classmates and people going for the same degree I am, making new friends, and getting to know new people. Instead, we all sat on Zoom calls and made the best of the situation. Before COVID hit, I was working two jobs and planned to do that until the semester started, when we went into lock down, I lost one of those jobs because they were not essential and was left with one job that was not giving me nearly enough hours to both save for school and pay bills. It was a hard financial stress at the time, but I was so appreciative to still have at least one job. I am currently still working at my essential job, aka Panera Bread. The dynamic of the working now is so bizarre to me. We wear our masks, when we clock in, we fill out a questionnaire about how we are feeling that day, if we have any symptoms, and we take our temperature. We all stand behind plexiglass screaming at each other because we can’t hear each other. I haven’t been able to see some of my family members because there are either immunocompromised, elderly, or every sick. When my grandpa was in the hospital for a head injury and potentially wouldn’t be able to remember anything every again, I did not get to see him. My grandma, who lives in Philadelphia got diagnosed with a kidney disease that was eventually kill her because there is no cure, I didn’t get to see her because flying out to her to visit wasn’t an option per the fact that her immune system has plummeted, and she can easily get sick. I have not been able to see my brother, dad, or stepmom because my brother is immunocompromised, and my stepmom is an on-call house nurse for premature and very sick babies. To say the least, 2020’s rating in my books is a 0 out of 10 and I would not recommend this year.

By Annette Barnes

Unless you have experienced this devastating disease firsthand, you truly can’t understand. Coronavirus is far more than just a two-week flu: it is a struggle, a thief, and it is fear.

I came down with Coronavirus on March 16th, 2020, and since then I have been stuck in a months-long, constant struggle. After the initial couple of weeks being sicker than I have ever been, I got past the viral stage, but the fatigue never seems to leave. I struggle to get out of bed in the morning. I struggle to go to work. I struggle with doing the most basic tasks such as getting dressed, showering, cooking and caring for myself and my loved ones. Coronavirus has left me constantly tired, but no amount of sleep seems to be enough. Some days are better than others, but I still cannot force myself to be productive because it seems like the more I do, the worse I feel in the proceeding days and weeks. Doing menial chores like going to the grocery store often leads to days of fatigue and exhaustion.

Coronavirus is a thief. It stole my breath and left me needing supplemental oxygen, like an 80-year-old. It confuses my mind, and steals my words causing me to sink into a brain-fog that cannot be dispelled, but must simply pass on its own. It stole my sense of smell, taking the joy out of little things like cooking or putting on the perfect perfume. It stole the life I used to have. In its place, it left questions and uncertainty. Coronavirus stole so many simple pleasures from my life: I can no longer sing and dance along to the radio because breathing is so difficult. Focusing is nearly impossible because my brain doesn’t work the same. I can’t even walk the dogs because I’m out of breath after only fifteen or twenty steps, and that’s not all: There is so much this little burglar took from me that it would be impossible to put it all into words.

Coronavirus is fear. I’m stuck in a world of constant worry, all the while wondering, “What if my tests come back normal; will my doctor tell me this is all in my head?” “What if my tests show something terrible, like permanent heart or lung damage?” “Will I ever get better; or worse, what happens if I get sick again?” “Will my life ever return to normal?”  All this fear and doubt inevitably leads to relying on hope. Hope is probably the most dangerous emotion, because once hope is lost, what is left? Truly, nothing will shatter a person quicker than the loss of those last tattered remnants of hope.

“But wait” you say, “This can’t be true. Isn’t Coronavirus only supposed to be dangerous for the elderly or those with pre-existing conditions? Afterall, it only has a minimal death rate.” Coronavirus has been unfairly studied as merely survival versus death, but this leaves me, and others like myself, in a sort of limbo where we did not die, but neither have we recovered. Many viruses are known to lead to post-viral issues: Chickenpox leads to shingles decades after infection, mononucleosis is known to create lasting illness in previously healthy individuals, and even, the original SARS led to post-viral issues such as chronic fatigue syndrome. Is it really a stretch to believe that COVID-19 can create post-viral issues as well? There is an innumerable amount of people like me out there who have been ill for months upon months, and we are fighting like hell to be recognized and helped by the medical community. Can you imagine going from being a perfectly healthy person in the prime of your life, to suffering and struggling for months and then, being dismissed by your doctor and told that your symptoms are anxiety? Can you imagine living for months on end as a hollowed-out shell of your former self? Can you, for just a moment, imagine what it would be like to have an invisible monster invade your body, scoop out important parts of yourself, and still hear every single day how that monster is not dangerous to healthy people?

Please listen! Please hear my words and learn from my experience. Yes, masks are uncomfortable. Yes, washing your hands or using sanitizer consistently can lead to dry, cracked, irritated skin. And yes, halting gatherings like eating out, going to the movies, or going to concerts seems like the worst thing in a world where we all just need a little fun and distraction. But, please remember that it is only temporary. Even if it takes a year or two, there will be a vaccine or an effective treatment someday. Scientists and the medical community are working tirelessly to ensure this disease is eradicated as soon, and as safely as possible. As we are going through it, it really seems to take forever, but looking back, time really does fly: It will be the same with Coronavirus. If everyone stays safe now, one day everyone will look back and this year (or two) will be a blip on the radar of a lifetime’s worth of memories. In the meantime, wash your hands, wear your mask in public, and avoid unnecessary gatherings. Don’t be afraid, but don’t do anything to needlessly risk contracting this monster. Your life is worth far more than a moment of fun. Stay safe.

By Collin Porterfield

When COVID-19 first became a topic of discussion in February and March of 2020, I didn’t really think anything of it and figured, “Hey, as long as I get my Flu shot, I’m good.” No one around me knew anyone that actually had it and people were beginning to freak out and overwhelm the shopping scene. However, things quickly changed when I found out that both of my parents had contracted the virus and were now bed-ridden with a temperature of 104.8 every day and feeling like they were honestly nearing death. They had the virus and were in that state for six solid months before showing any signs of progress. They did test positive for antibodies in September but up to that point, they were told to stay at home and to not go to the hospital unless they were actually dying. Even after testing positive for antibodies, they were still shedding the virus which means they were still contagious. So we did not end up getting to reunite until October.

Around the same time that I found out my parents were fighting through every day and that I was not allowed to go see them or do anything about it, I found out my Interpreter Preparation Program was going online with everyone else. This led to a feeling of isolation, exhaustion without leaving a chair, and ubiquitous depression of or the quarantined experience. Shortly after going online, the Brewery that I work at was closed and I was forced to go onto unemployment. With literally millions of people applying for unemployment a day, the process was long and arduous. I was concerned for my parents’ health, my level of education and skills after remote learning, and some sense of shame and failure for having to be unemployed and barely making it through each week. Finding the motivation to do school online or try to find work beyond just pressing a button online to accept a chunk of money from unemployment was almost impossible. The mental and physical toll of waking up, sitting in a chair and looking at a computer screen with lots of little boxes for 8 hours, then going to bed was really adding up and finishing the semester was very difficult.

I felt a whole mix of emotions towards the situation, how people around Colorado Springs were handling it, and how our government/the world is handling it. I quickly had to approach those questions and lines we have all had to consider lately which is, how much do I need to freak out? Who am I fine being around without a mask, and who am I not? If I am comfortable doing one thing, why not the other? The perfect predicament is now later into the year close to the holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas will be coming up in a few months and these questions are really on my mind. If my parents are still a high risk (which the doctors have confirmed they are, and stated if they get the virus again; they will die this time) do I need to isolate myself for two weeks before I see them for Thanksgiving? Should we even get together? What guarantee is there that they will not get it again by our small gathering. But also, I have always spent Thanksgiving with my parents. If I need to stay away to not put their life at risk, that is an easy but unfortunate choice. Now that we are in a time where the numbers are exponentially worse than the first time we locked down, people seem to care less about the virus and more about avoiding inconveniences. The problem is now the inner strife between family members who do not have common thoughts on the virus and how to deal with it. Now families are forced to choose to stay away from other members who are not taking precautions.

Everyone, I repeat, everyone has had a difficult year this year in some form or fashion. This has been the most bizarre, depressing, and challenging year of most of our lives. Although the end of the year is drawing closer, the end of the pandemic, civil unrest, online learning and interaction platform, and struggle is far from over. I think opportunities like this are extremely valuable. It is important to listen to other people’s experiences and consider what they have had to go through. Be there for people to talk to when we are all stuck at home and feeling isolated. Understand that regardless of how close you are to the virus, the BLM movement, the Presidency, or remote learning, we all get through this together by opening our hearts and minds to different information and perspectives. We all have a different truth of what happened this year and how it has impacted us. We all deserve the right to share it and be heard.

By Estee Meza

What has this year been like for me living in this once-in-a-century global shutdown? At first, I believed this was a very deadly virus that if contracted could mean isolation from everyone, including immediate family, in a medical facility, to live out the rest of my days alone and suffering. This was absolutely reason enough to stop going out in public to avoid any potential contact with such a virus.

The months passed on though, and while we have worn masks, socially distanced, and even quarantined from everyone not in my household, in the most extreme case, but nothing is changing. I was hopeful that life would go back to normal, and now, I’m not so sure anymore. Instead, we as a country are suffering from increased depression and anxiety, not to mention unemployment due to these lockdowns. Not to mention the amount of political involvement in this global shutdown as well, it just all seems much too orchestrated to be authentic. In no way do I doubt that a virus exists, but now that we have ran our small businesses, and lowest income communities to the ground, we need to focus on recovering. I started off the quarantine restless as can be, have gone through extreme depression and anxiety attacks, so bad that I almost ended up divorcing my husband. I have had to face myself alone in this time and really learn how to heal and let go of factors that are out of my control. I am one of the fortunate ones, able to keep working, and support my family financially throughout this difficult year. To be blessed with that weight off my shoulders in a time like this is extremely lucky. Not everyone faces that reality though, and that reality is going to keep seeping in the longer this goes on.

By Gina Hardgraves

Life during the global shutdown has been quite the surreal experience.  At the beginning of March I was laid off from my job as a server and took it as an opportunity to spend all of my extra time with my two young kids, enjoy my pregnancy, and focus on school.  It was nice being home with my family. Also, I already appreciated my husband, but after not being at work I grew a greater appreciation for him and all of his hard work to support our family.  School changed for me as well as I prefer taking math and science courses in person, however, the teachers were well prepared and it hasn’t been awful, but a lot more time is needed to learn the material and a lot of motivation!!!  Once my restaurant reopened, I had my third child a week later and therefore didn’t return to work for another three months in order to take care of my newborn…which was great! I returned to work again and two weeks after working the restaurant shut down again, we are hoping to reopen ASAP!! Unfortunately, the lack of two incomes has been hard on our family as I know many people have been affected financially by the shut down.  We have also had to go through two close deaths within our families which have been incredibly hard as we could not say our goodbyes in person due to the shut down restrictions; I can say that would never have been something I thought I would be kept from.  Though my family has experienced hard times, at the end of the day everyone in this world has experienced change, hardships and even accomplishments.  We focus on the good things in our life and are thankful for each other, our health, and our friends and family that stay in touch to keep a sense of normalcy!

By John Moss

These last few months have unfortunately shown me exactly what I’ve known as far as human behaviour goes. Pre-pandemic human nature was casual, individuals going about their day and earnestly just trying to be happy or at minimum content with their lives. People naturally don’t want strife or hardships but because we are a social species with infinite personalities and idiosyncrasies, we unfortunately are also the cause of our strife.

By all means I am not an anthropologist or a Psych major. I unfortunately have a predisposition to analyze everything and anything around me. So what behaviours were atypical pre-pandemic? Selfishness, egoism, self-destructive behaviour, entitlement, you name it. As individuals, when most people get to know others, the defenses go down, both parties usually want to impress a good feeling upon the other person as long as the feelings are mutual. It’s even better when there is a group of individuals who have the same positive mind-frame of wanting to do something good; volunteering, feeding the hungry or any form of altruism. Herd mentality however, embodies all of the nasty characteristics I mentioned before and more.

It takes time, effort and an emotional state or mind frame that’s reciprocal for healthy relationships, and simplistic interactions, to form. Common courtesies, polite manners and proper etiquette are not a community shared trait. People are pushy, angry, emotionally displaced with a disposition to take it out on others. That’s your common person, and if you don’t agree with that statement, all you have to do is drive in traffic for a while or go to any nearby super store and just people watch. It is so easy for people to condemn another for a perceived wrongdoing, it’s even easier to become angry instead of calm when someone actually preforms a wrongdoing.

So what does this seemingly misanthropic analysis have to do with the current pandemic and the past few months? The point is our behaviours were bad before, we were hateful and angry to each other before and this pandemic has further divided us.

We have race wars, we have rampant authority malfeasance, we had trump in office (capitalization is for nouns and respect which I have none for) who has said, “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” “I have a great relationship with the blacks. I’ve always had a great relationship with the blacks,” and additionally mocking a disabled reporter on camera. I’m not going to turn this into a political issue but having someone in power, someone millions of people look towards is going to be influential. Instead of having poise and tact, any person in power that flaunts destructive traits will influence others to be destructive as well; even if that influence is seemingly small. Remember, 1% sounds low, 1% of 328,000,000 million Americans is still 3,280,000 million people being swayed.

People not wearing masks, self-importance, denouncing science, pharmaceutical conspiracies (COVID may cause erectile dysfunction, Pfizer, a pharmaceutical company leading the way of a vaccine, also created Viagra). Instead of coming together as a single race, as humans, as brothers and sisters. We fight each other on our dogmatic beliefs. This year is no different than any other, humans are still garbage and actively avoid putting their best foot forward. I weep for the good people, I weep for those who try and who care. I will always believe we can change, I will always love my neighbour but I am not naïve, I will keep an eye on my brothers and one eye on my sisters because destructive behaviour seems to be a predisposition I can’t afford to get engulfed by. The safety of my family and my daughters is all I have in this world.

By Robert Shearon

This entire year has been something of a whirlwind for everybody and a source of frustration for many, though not all for the same reason. My points of frustration have been from those exhibiting an unwillingness to join in the effort to ensure everyone’s safety or being reluctant to learn the new skills it takes to exist in this new way of doing things. I have been fortunate enough to be able to work from home and thus avoid a large brunt of what is happening, but I know many, my wife included, that do not have that luxury. To say nothing of the people that will not listen to scientists and experts informing them that the old way of going out is going to get people sick, the open hostility to these opinions and attempts to safeguard everyone is extremely upsetting at times. My wife has been berated, coughed on deliberately, and made to feel like a lesser person for asking them to do something as simple as put on a mask while in the store she is working at. This reckless and anti-intellectual behavior has led to two of the four employees of this establishment to be in quarantine with my wife waiting to hear the results of their tests. By doing this, it has put our entire family in jeopardy because some folks will not put on a mask despite being legally obliged to wear clothing, something they seem to have no problem with.

I work at a non-profit helping students learn financial literacy, something I have been doing for some time now so I am intimately aware of the challenges we face in these times. However, this has been compounded by some of the same mentality that also leads to people being unwilling to learn the new skills needed to be able to cope with the situation we find ourselves in. This is different from those who want to learn, but are struggling with things like learning the technology we have been using to be able to work remote, some will actively turn the help away and even demean you for trying.

This is not to say it has been all bad, there has been some good to come out of this situation. I do get a sense that despite the folks not listening to science that there is a louder undercurrent of people rediscovering a sense of community and mutual cooperation that had been absent from our discourse for a long time. It feels like there could be a movement towards being better to one another and taking actions like universal healthcare spurred from the renewed sense of being in this together and not letting something like a person’s financial standing be an arbiter of the care they should receive. Seeing this reaction in people has given me hope that once we get through this, and we will, that maybe we can do a little better at looking out for each other.

By Weston Jarrell

The “global shutdown” has been a unique experience for me and my family because I have competing requirements both physically and mentally. I am an older student, 33 years old, and have been serving in the Army for the last 15 years and change. However, I have been having medical issues over the last few years that has forced me to the Soldier Recovery Unit at Fort Carson to hopefully recover and return to duty. Now due to the pandemic, this has hindered my ability to receive the surgeries I need in a timely manner. I had to postpone my right shoulder surgery by 4 months, which in turn, pushed back my hip surgery another three months. This has also eaten up my allowed time in the recover unit and is forcing my hand to be evaluated by a medical review board. This would ultimately end my career in the Army as the medical review board would find me unfit for duty due to injuries and medically retire me. This would be four years short of a normal retirement and I would lose some benefits potentially depending on ratings.  Now besides the medical issues, I have had to manage my sanity by attending school to keep busy since my normal “nine to five” is attending medical appointments and therapy. It’s amazing how hard it is to keep focused on the future when your last 14 years of active duty has been filled with purpose and meaning. I am thankful though to have the opportunity to attend school during my medical treatment as this has given me purpose and a sense of fulfillment.



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