For three students at Eagle Point High School, a Ford Family Foundation scholarship will mean they'll be the first in their families to go to college.

For three students at Eagle Point High School, a Ford Family Foundation scholarship will mean they'll be the first in their families to go to college.

Manny Fletes Arochi, Orlando De La Cruz and Justus Breshears are among 120 students from Oregon and Siskiyou County, Calif., to receive the scholarships, which cover 90 percent of unmet college expenses of up to $25,000 per year. The three will graduate at 7:30 tonight during EPHS ceremonies at the football stadium.

Fletes Arochi plans to major in architecture and minor in international affairs at the University of Oregon. De La Cruz will study communication and convergent media, with a minor in business marketing, at Southern Oregon University. Breshears plans to earn a business degree from Portland State University.

The awards are based on grades, volunteer work, clubs, athletics, need and face-to-face interviews, says Liz Fletcher, EPHS College Center adviser.

"They've been working on this all through middle school and high school," says Fletcher. "They've all shown incredible involvement and commitment and big hearts — and these are the things that Ford Foundation values."

Fletes Arochi arrived with his family from Mexico four years ago. He tried to get in step at Eagle Point High School, but neither he nor his family could speak a word of English. They were poor and still are struggling.

His dad got a day job and night job. His mom found work in a food factory. Fletes Arochi was about to drop out of school and get a job to help bring in some hard cash for the family.

Then Adam Williams, director of English Language Development at EPHS, stepped in.

"Language was real tough," Fletes-Arochi recalls. "I couldn't understand anything ... but Mr. Williams motivated me to continue my studies. I spent countless hours till I was fluent."

Fletes Arochi dived into architecture, building a model of the historic Ashland Railroad Station as his senior project. Guided by Fletcher, Fletes Arochi spent years volunteering in the library, working on teen pregnancy with the Latina Health Coalition and heading up the Multicultural Club, organizing celebrations of Chinese New Year, Black History Month and Cinco de Mayo.

Fletes Arochi knew there was no way his family could pay for college.

He'd resolved, he says, to work and go into debt if he had to, but he was dead-set on a college education.

"I'd applied to so many scholarships, I'd lost track," he says.

But on May 17, he pulled a letter out of the mailbox from the Ford Family Foundation.

"My parents were so amazed," he says. "It makes a huge difference. They won't have to worry about my education. I will be a role model to my younger sister."

Fletes Arochi says he plans to study architecture, languages and international relations.

His goal? "I want to build houses and schools for people in need in poor countries."

Orlando De La Cruz says his life goal is to create his own videography business, making documentaries and spots to help businesses and events communicate with the public.

"My parents are from Mexico," De La Cruz says. "They were in shock when I got the scholarship letter. They were worried before that. It takes a lot of stress off their backs and off mine."

De La Cruz has won 16 wrestling medals and made state three times during his high school career.

"SOU has a great (media) program and I plan to wrestle for them," he says.

Justus Breshears says she was faltering academically several years ago, but EPHS automotive instructor Matt Boren guided her into SkillsUSA, a partnership of teachers, students and industry that taught her skills in customer service and automobile mechanics. For three years, she served as president of the local organization and competed in the nationals, placing 10th.

Breshears has been taking vehicle repair at Rogue Community College and plans on opening and managing a vehicle repair shop — with emphasis on opportunities for women mechanics — once she graduates.

"It all started when I was a kid and played with Hot Wheels," Breshears recalls. "In high school, I was struggling but when I found auto shop, it became my home."

The trio applied to many scholarships and spent hours sweating over essays and going to face-to-face interviews, says Fletcher. All met with disappointment until the letters arrived May 17.

"When I got the letter," says De La Cruz, "I thought, it's amazing what people can do and give out. All my life, my family struggled, but this is a big chunk of change and it's going to change my whole life."

Says Breshears, "I took mine to auto shop and opened it with Mr. Boren. It was pretty amazing. I had tears in my eyes. It wasn't real crying. OK, it was real crying."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at