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Honoring Struggles & Successes with the First LGBTQ+ Scholarship

Realizing there was a need for an inclusive scholarship, Abigail Soto, Research and Records Manager at the Clark College Foundation, and her wife Christie sought to honor the woman who made Christie’s education possible. The Sharon M. Keilbarth Memorial Scholarship fulfills both of these needs.

The youngest of seven siblings, Christie Soto was the first to graduate from high school. Her strongest supporter was her eldest sister Sharon Keilbarth. Keilbarth couldn’t have been more proud of Christie Soto when she graduated.

When Christie Soto was young, Keilbarth used to buy new clothes and school supplies for her younger siblings. She ensured their homework was finished each night and they were ready for school in the mornings. Keilbarth was passionate about seeing them complete their education.

Later in life, Keilbarth married a man, but came to realize she was attracted to women. With a husband and child, it was a difficult revelation for Keilbarth. Eventually she and her husband separated cordially, remaining friends over the years.

Through the process of realizing and coming to terms with her sexuality, Keilbarth helped Abigail Soto navigate through her own awakening process. “She was passionate about helping younger people to live their authentic lives and succeed in their educational goals,” Abigail Soto said.

Learning there wasn’t a LGBTQ+ specific scholarship gave Christie Soto and her wife, Abigail Soto, the idea for the Sharon M. Keilbarth Memorial Scholarship to honor Keilbarth, who died in 2012.  

To start the process, they reached out to the Scholarship Foundation director, Shirley Schwartz.

Abigail Soto said Scholarship Foundation Director Shirley Schwartz helped make starting the scholarship simpler. “She helped us to realize how satisfying it feels to continue honoring Sharon’s legacy by allocating our philanthropic budget toward Clark College,” Abigail Soto said. “[Clark is] an institution which has and will continue to support our community in really amazing and important ways for generations to come.”

This is the first year the scholarship is being offered. It is being awarded for the first time this fall and the recipient(s) will be honored at the foundation’s annual scholarship reception on Oct. 19.

The purpose of this scholarship is to help support one of Clark College’s core strategic initiatives which is to provide strong educational and training opportunities to diverse and systemically non-dominant communities. The Sharon M. Keilbarth Memorial Scholarship is intended to provide education funding to Clark students who are actively involved in community and college efforts to advance principles of inclusion and opportunity relating to the LGBTQQIAP2S communities (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Pansexual and/or Two Spirit).

“Looking back at that picture [pictured above] and remembering all that Sharon  did for [Christie] was what kept motivating Christie to finish her higher education,” Abigail Soto said. Christie Soto graduated with her Bachelor of Science in automotive industry management from Colorado State University Pueblo.

“[Keilbarth] would be proud to see that her legacy is being carried forward through this scholarship,” Abigail Soto said. “Community college is really the foundation. It is the place where lives begin to change and opportunities begin to open up.”

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