Posted: Nov. 16, 2012

The Phoenix Suns and Sun Life Financial Inc. announced Phoenix’s Sun Life Rising Star Award recipients this week, providing $110,000 in grants and scholarships to two community organizations, Boys & Girls Clubs of the East Valley and New Pathways for Youth (formerly Phoenix Youth at Risk), as well as an exemplary student nominated by each: Gilbert High School’s Nick Groth, and Metro Tech High School’s Diana Gutierrez.

Suns executives helped Sun Life Group Sales Manager Mindy Schulz surprise the students with their scholarships during a special presentation prior to Wednesday's Suns vs. Bulls game at US Airways Center. The winners were also treated to an on-court photo and were recognized at halftime for their achievements.

The Sun Life Rising Star Awards program recognizes non-profits that redress low high school graduation rates and honors outstanding students who have overcome significant obstacles to succeed. The program also promotes financial literacy as a means to achieve life-long financial wellness and stability. Each winning organization receives a $50,000 grant and selects an exemplary student they work with to receive a $5,000 college scholarship. Since the program’s inception, Sun Life has granted nearly $3 million to 54 students and 47 nonprofit organizations across the country. This year, Sun Life expanded the program to seven cities from five in 2011, and will award grants and scholarships to students and nonprofits in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix and South Florida.

“We are making an investment in our youth, our education system and the workforce of tomorrow through our Sun Life Rising Star Awards program,” said Sun Life Financial U.S. President Wes Thompson. “It’s a privilege to reward these incredible students who have persevered in the face of adversity and stayed committed to furthering their education. We believe they need only opportunity and support to realize their full potential.”

In addition to monetary support, the Sun Life Rising Star Awards program will provide winning organizations with educational curriculum and resources to increase financial literacy among students. Sun Life recently partnered with dfree®, a movement developed by Dr. DeForest B. Soaries Jr. to galvanize the public to overcome the culture of debt and attain financial self-sufficiency. Sun Life and dfree® will provide the students and nonprofits with Breaking Free Workbooks, which includes interactive activities and tools to encourage debt-free living.

A four-person judging panel comprised of Phoenix’s foremost government officials, community and business leaders selected the Sun Life Rising Star Awards winners based on the following criteria:

  • Nonprofit’s commitment to developing and promoting skills that directly translate to educational engagement and matriculation rates for secondary school youth under the age of 21
  • Nonprofit’s demonstrated partnership with a secondary or post-secondary educational institution
  • Nonprofit’s documented ability to respond to the needs of specific groups of youth in a manner yielding measurable results
  • Student nominee’s plan to pursue post-secondary education, leadership qualities, commitment to his or her community, and a 750-word essay on how financial education contributes to future success
  • 2012 Phoenix Sun Life Rising Stars:

    Boys & Girls Clubs of the East Valley – Boys & Girls Clubs of the East Valley is a community-based character building youth development organization. They deliver the highest quality programs and provide opportunities to assist youth and teens in developing their self-esteem, values and skills in a fun and safe environment. Boys & Girls Clubs of the East Valley professionals guide members through personal, educational, and social development, to realize their full potential and become positive, value-oriented and productive citizens.

    Student Recipient: Nick Groth, Gilbert High School

    Nick works for Boys and Girls Clubs of the East Valley where he served as a Leader in Training (LIT) for 3 summers and was named Youth of the Year for the Clubs in 2012. He also served as the president of the Gilbert Branch’s Keystone Club in the 2011-2012 academic year. Nick is a member of the Gilbert High School varsity football and varsity wrestling teams, holds a 3.6 GPA in school and hopes to attend college to become an orthopedic surgeon.

    New Pathways for Youth

    New Pathways for Youth, formerly known as Phoenix Youth at Risk, makes new futures possible for area children and youth through mentoring and value-driven programs. They strive to ensure that all youth achieve their full potential. Through the structured mentoring programs, New Pathways for Youth helps at-risk and homeless children and teens learn to dream again, and make those dreams a reality.

    Student Recipient: Diana Gutierrez, Metro Tech High School

    Diana is a math tutor at Metro Tech High School and volunteers at Mitchell Elementary School (her alma mater) and Golden Gate Community Center. Diana ranks third in her class of 612 with a 3.842 unweighted/4.526 weighted GPA and has been accepted to the National Honor Society. She is bilingual in English and Spanish and intermediate in American Sign Language, is a member of Arizona Quest for Kids, Be A Leader Program, the American Sign Language Club, Future Business Leaders of America, and the Science Club.