REDDING, Calif.—New Simpson University students Gabriel Gonzalez and Tommy Hail share an unbreakable bond: they and their families were displaced from their homes during the Carr and Camp Fires that ravaged Northern California last year.
They are also two of the first recipients of Simpson University’s Carr & Camp Fire Scholarship, created in 2018 as part of the school’s Legacy Scholarship initiative.
The Carr & Camp Fire Scholarship is specifically for students who were directly affected by the fires by helping them afford tuition. Students can be awarded up to $15,000 a year, with the potential for an additional $6,000 more through the Simpson University Matching Award. To learn about scholarship criteria or to apply for the scholarship, visit simpsonu.edu/carrcampfire.
“I think having a scholarship designed for people who were impacted by the fires is an incredibly gracious thing,” Hail said. “I believe that it is something that can open doors for people who might not have had the opportunity before. I most likely would have not gone to Simpson if this scholarship did not exist.”
Gonzalez and his family lost their home on July 26, 2018, when the Carr Fire jumped the Sacramento River and reached the Lake Redding Estates neighborhood. He packed a few belongings before he left for work, including his mountain bike, some clothes and electronics, but he did not grasp the magnitude of the fire.
“When the fire first broke out, the thought of it traveling from Whiskeytown, across the Sacramento River, to my house never crossed my mind,” he said.
Gonzalez said adjusting to life after the fire was difficult.
“At one point I tried to fill my void by just buying things, but that did not work, and I ended up returning everything I bought,” he said. “Ultimately God was the only one who has filled that void.”
Gonzalez was considering attending college out of state for a fresh start until he learned about the Carr & Camp Fire Scholarship.
“I never thought I would be able to afford college without taking out massive debt,” he said. “Once I heard about the scholarship and how much of a price difference there would be, I realized I would be foolish to not attend Simpson. I am a first-generation college student in my family, so this is a huge deal to me.”
Gonzalez plans to major in psychology and pursue a master’s degree in hopes of one day becoming a school psychologist.
Hail and his family were forced to evacuate when the Camp Fire tore through Paradise, Calif., last November.
“The days right after the fire were really a roller coaster for me,” he said. “Some days I really felt strong. Other days I felt like I was crumbling down. I knew I had to lean on God, but as simple as the solution is, it can be very difficult.”
Hail and his family lived with friends and family for over seven months before being able to return to their home.
“While I’m still living in my house, it’s the only one on my block,” he said. “Living in Paradise is basically like living in a construction zone.”
Hail learned about the Carr & Camp Fire Scholarship while researching schools after attending at Butte College in Oroville, Calif.
“I decided to apply because Simpson offered biblical studies, and it was somewhere that wasn’t too foreign to me,” he said.”
He plans to study Bible and Theology with an emphasis in Old Testament.
Simpson University’s Carr & Camp Fire Scholarship is one of the school’s seven legacy scholarships. For a full list, visit simpsonu.edu/scholarships.
-Article by Elise Wilson / Photos courtesy Gabriel Gonzalez and Tommy Hail
Top photo: Gabriel Gonzalez’s family’s house after the Carr Fire.
Simpson University, founded in 1921, moved to Redding 30 years ago and will celebrate its centennial in 2021. In addition to offering 25 majors in its traditional undergraduate program, the university has graduated more than 4,000 North State adults from its ASPIRE degree-completion program, and nearly 3,000 from its School of Education. It has a No. 8-ranked School of Nursing, a seminary, and master’s programs in counseling psychology and organizational leadership. Simpson University is recognized nationally by Colleges of Distinction.
Simpson is launching new athletics programs in track and field, swimming and diving, women’s wrestling, and men’s volleyball, as well as a bass fishing team. The university is also working to better serve transfer students from community colleges through its commitment to Associate Degree for Transfer agreements, and it is offering new scholarships.