Sometimes someone on the outside looking in has to believe in you before you can believe in yourself.

For Yavapai College Student Government Association Senator and aspiring firefighter Danny Avalar, that someone dropped in after he dropped out of high school.

Deana Dewitt, an administrator with the Sedona Oak Creek Unified School District, was a regular customer at the family-owned restaurant in the Village of Oak Creek where Danny had worked since jumping in to help his owner parents at age 9. High school wasn’t as important to a teen-aged Danny as making money and chasing good times with friends. “School in general didn’t make sense to me at the time,” he said.

Dewitt would make it a point to chat with Danny every time she came in to dine. One day she invited him to meet with her in her office. “She sat me down and we had a heart to heart. She didn’t talk to me as a truant student, but more as an adult,” he recalled of the meeting. The result? Danny agreed to return to high school, but not only for himself.

“My parents didn’t have the opportunity to get a formal education. They immigrated in their early teens. I felt like I was letting them down,” Danny said of his decision to repeat his junior year, attend summer school and accept the “super senior” label to earn his diploma. “I have an opportunity to do something here, even if I don’t go to college. I want to show them I can finish this – that I can do something they weren’t able to do at my age,” he recalled thinking at the time.

It was after returning to SRRHS that Danny started formulating plans for the future that didn’t include the family business. After instinctively rendering first aid to a fellow student experiencing a medical emergency in class, he began to seriously consider a career in emergency medical services. As high school graduation loomed, Danny and his mentors scrambled to find college scholarships. His poor academic performance in the past left them with zero options save one -- a fundraiser for the “most improved student.”

A first-generation college student, Danny is grateful for the encouragement and support he received at SRRHS. “I’m grateful that they went out of their way and raised money for me. That said everything. If these people believe in me and they see potential, I should trust myself and keep proving that potential to them and keep proving it to myself.”

Before enrolling at YC, Danny attended an early college summer program at the YC Verde Valley Campus and interned with the Cottonwood Fire Department. Both experiences gave him the boost of confidence he needed to “stick around” and enroll at YC.

Danny earned his Emergency Medical Technician Certification and is currently working to complete a fire science degree at YC. He plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree at Northern Arizona University in public administration while working in the fire service.

“I wanted to get in and get out as fast as possible, but I had to take my time. There’s been a lot of twists and turns along the way, but it has been for the best. It’s opened up a lot of doors that I don’t think I would have explored otherwise,” he said, citing his student government service. “I get to work with a great group of students and have a leadership role with the school.”

Pointing to his own struggles and indirect path to college, Danny exudes confidence when he says anyone, at any age, can leave their mistakes in the past and forge a new path.

“Education doesn’t stop just because you had a rough patch, or don’t feel like you’re capable. There’s an opportunity to prosper and it’s right around the corner.”