When 18-year-old cancer survivor Jaime Gamez visited the Universal Technical Institute (UTI) campus of Avondale in late August an unexpected announcement brought him to tears.
Gamez, a graduate of Valley Vista High School underwent extensive treatment after learning he had cancer in early 2018, was surprised by UTI President and CEO Kim McWaters with a full-ride scholarship to the technical school.
This fall, the teen, who loves all things diesel, will attend the Diesel Technology and Freightliner Finish First programs at UTI, at no cost.
“It’s something I’m grateful for because I still have medical bills to worry about. It opened more doors for me,” Gamez said. “I can work, focus on school and pay the things I need to pay.”
Make-A-Wish Arizona, UTI and several industry partners worked together to make this possible, said Adrian Cordova, UTI-Avondale campus president.
“Make-A-Wish supports all kinds of dreams. When (Gamez) was approached, his wish was, ‘I want to go to UTI.’ We connected with our industry partners and everyone pitched in and said, ‘Instead of figuring out how he can have a tuition discount, let’s figure out how he can have no school cost at all,’” Cordova said.
Sunstate Equipment Co., which offers construction rental equipment services in Arizona and 13 other states, is one of the companies that stepped up to the plate. Larry Cox, the vice president of culture at Sunstate, believes Gamez has a unique story.
“To hear about an 18-year-old young man who’s gone through a lot of diversity in his young life set out a goal to be a technician — we hear a story like that — it’s easy to jump on that wagon and be supportive of it,” Cox said.
“It was an automatic no-brainer for us to help him out. We’re part of the community. We take care of our people.”
Other contributing partners include Daimler Trucks North America, Freightliner, Premier Truck Group, Snap-On Tools and Tech Force Foundation.
The Diesel Technology and Freightliner Finish First programs, valued at $40,900, will offer Gamez hands-on training in areas like engines, transmissions, electronics, hydraulics, refrigeration and technology. And Cordova said he can complete both programs in less than a year.
“It’s definitely fast-paced and a quick way to get into your career. That’s why many students take this track,” he said. “We value their time and their ability to get into the field as soon as possible.”
President and CEO of Make-A-Wish Arizona Elizabeth Reich said if it weren’t for companies like UTI, Make-A-Wish could not reach the children they do.
“We are so grateful that Universal Technical Institute connected with their industry and employee partners to make Jaime’s wish a reality,” said Reich.
As for Gamez, he said he believes his “life is going to be set up good.”
“I just have to go to school, graduate, focus on it, start working and I’ll be able to support what I need.”