Formerly homeless addict gets full- ride college scholarship

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Dallariva was arrested several times over the years and eventually spent 2.5 years in prison. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Dallariva was arrested several times over the years and eventually spent 2.5 years in prison. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
Dallariva got clean at Phoenix Rescue Mission. He now works in the learning center there. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Dallariva got clean at Phoenix Rescue Mission. He now works in the learning center there. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
"I'm excited and hopeful and ready to do this," Jesse Dallariva said. (Source: KPHO/KTVK) "I'm excited and hopeful and ready to do this," Jesse Dallariva said. (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

As 6,500 students move in for the fall semester at Grand Canyon University this week, one first-time student is trading a life on the street for dorm life and a new beginning.

For the first time, GCU is giving one formerly homeless student a full-ride scholarship -- that's tuition and room and board. 

The recipient, Jesse Dallariva, doesn't stick out in the crowd. 

He's young and attractive, and eager to start classes, just like everyone else. 

"I've been through more in four years than more people have in their life," the 23-year-old said.

It started back in high school. Angry about his parents' divorce, Dallariva turned alcohol and drugs. It quickly spiraled into a full-blown cycle of chasing a high and stealing to support his habit. 

"Stealing, manipulating, hurting everyone I could," Dallariva said.

He got hooked on heroin, and then meth. After repeated arrests for thefts, Dallariva wound up doing 2.5 years in prison for felony organized retail theft. 

"I deserve life in prison, and more, for all the things I've done in this life," he said. "I don't want to reach my hand into that fire again."

He said he's finished with the demons of his bad decisions and is finally ready to leave the baggage of his past behind.

"I reached a point of brokenness where I ended up on the streets," Dallariva explained. "It wasn't even about chasing the high anymore. It was a way of life, the only life I knew. I was so hopeless and desperate."

He lived in a homeless camp off the freeway for more than a year. 

It wasn't until he relapsed after prison, and he met a woman in detox who shared her story of salvation that he was finally moved to find faith and sobriety.

"It's just this undeserved grace that's come into my life. It's incredible!" he said. 

Dallariva got clean at Phoenix Rescue Mission.

"God works in crazy, crazy ways," he said.

Now he works in the Mission's learning center, helping other men get a job or a GED.

"I'm very proud of him. Very, very proud of him," John Nee, an addiction counselor at Phoenix Rescue Mission, said.

Nee can relate Dallariva and his journey.

"I was also addicted to heroin," Nee said. "I made some bad choices. I went to prison five years ago." 

The former NFL tackle just got his masters at Grand Canyon University.

He shies away from any comparison of Dallariva's success to his own story come full circle.

Now only did Dallariva just land a full-ride scholarship to GCU, but he's also planning on pursuing a degree in addiction counseling - like Nee.

"We're supposed to help others," Nee said. "That's what we try to do here at the Mission."

"What probably grabs my heart more than anything is that Jesse's heart is to use this," Jay Cory, CEO of Phoenix Rescue Mission, said. "He wants to get his degree in counseling and then to be able to pour back into people here and at places like this." 

Dallariva is humbled by this second -- or 202nd -- chance, knowing there's a beauty in building a future from the lessons of your broken past.

"It fills my heart with hope and with joy and with peace," he said.

He hauled that hope onto campus Wednesday, ready to embrace this new beginning.

"I never saw this coming in my future a year ago at all," Dallariva said.

This scholarship is a special partnership between GCU and Phoenix Rescue Mission. 

GCU students and interns regularly work and volunteer at the Mission. They assist with health checkups, child care and counseling. 

Dallarvia's scholarship is renewable every year. He just has to keep his grades up and continue to work part-time through school, so there's not only reward but accountability, as well.

"I'm excited and hopeful and ready to do this," Dallariva said. "I'm ready to take this next step in my life."

Copyright 2015 3TV (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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