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'No Doors Closed' Scholar Awards Helping Students Reach Dreams

BURNSVILLE, Minn. — Four students on Thursday night beamed with happiness because their dreams are on the verge of becoming realities.

Manuel Andrade, Nia Blanks, Tommy Bui and Dhavena Tejpaul will become the first members of their families to attend college next fall with help from "No Doors Closed Scholar Awards" that were established by Vikings Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren, and his wife, Greta.

The Warren family presented the awards, which include $5,000 scholarships for each student, at the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191's Board of Education meeting.

Each scholarship is renewable for each student for four years (up to a $20,000 total per student), and the Warrens will add four students to the program in each of the next three years so that 16 scholars will be in the program on a rolling basis.

Education is a major point of emphasis for the Warren family. In 2012, Kevin and Greta "adopted" Lucy Craft Laney Community School in Minneapolis, where they have supplied more than 3,000 backpacks filled with school supplies and volunteered time to mentor the young students. Last fall, the Warrens donated 400 backpacks to District 191 students.

This time, they directed their efforts toward high schoolers aiming to continue their educations because the Warrens know how many doors that advanced education has opened for them.

Greta was the first member of her family to attend college, and she said her "perspective on life changed immensely."

"I wouldn't have traded it for anything," Greta said. "I think that can change the trajectory of anyone's life, being educated and having access to more education.

"It means a lot when someone is there to encourage you," she added. "I think sometimes young people need the extra boost, the extra feeling that someone is there to support them. I'm glad we were able to do it."

Kevin said he believes that education is a "great equalizer."

"Not every person is blessed into a family that has financial resources, but I know, speaking from experience that education can overcome any shortfalls you have in your life," Kevin said, "and if you get a good education, typically it means that you get a good job, which means you can make money, take care of your family and be a productive citizen.

Vikings Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren and wife, Greta, have established the ???Kevin and Greta Warren No Doors Closed Scholar Awards??? program designated for first generation college students.

"I strongly believe that, more than money, education is the most important thing," Kevin added. "These students are so very talented that all of them will go a long way to get multiple degrees and do great things in society."

Andrade has worked hard as an English Language Learner and wants to become an accountant.

"I asked my parents about going to college, and they said, 'Oh, we need to work very hard,' Andrade said. "I am very excited to receive this news. This scholarship will change my life.

"Thank you to Kevin and Greta for giving me this great opportunity," added Andrade, who plans to start at Normandale Community College and transfer to the University of Minnesota.

Blanks plans to study psychology at Tennessee State University and continue her philanthropic efforts that include organizing a clothing drive and cooking meals for homeless people.

"It's really an honor because [the Warrens] give back, and that's what I plan to do," Blanks said. "They're just helping us get to that level so we can give back."

Blanks said her passion for volunteering stems from the willingness of her mother and brother to give to others.

Bui and Tejpaul plan to attend Minnesota State University, Mankato. Bui intends to study electrical engineering, and Tejpaul will study nursing and plans to continue her education to become a physician's assistant.

"It means a lot. It's an honor to receive this scholarship because my dad is disabled and I live with my dad's brother," Tejpaul said. "My dad can't work, so this is really great."

Students in the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) and/or College Possible readiness programs were eligible. A total of 14 students from Burnsville High School and Burnsville Alternative High School applied.

"Some of these students have had to overcome incredible obstacles to even be standing here today," Kevin said. "It's amazing. They had multiple opportunities to throw in the towel.

"For them to persevere and get the grades they did and take the ACT and work 25 and 30 hours a week," Kevin continued. "Some students worked 30 hours a week through school, played sports, had family issues and health issues that they had to work through. It helps put it all in perspective to say they can do anything."

The Warrens were so inspired by all applicants that they also have committed $500 to each of the other 10 applicants.

"[I was most impressed by] the character they exhibited and the decisions they made to go forward and commit themselves to a higher education because it is a decision, and I'm proud of every one of them," Greta said.

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