Through education and hope, to see our indigenous Mexican friends restore their war-ravaged region!

Call Us

+1 414 204 4768

March 2022


A New Executive Director & The Graduation of More Than 100 College Students!

Dear Past and Present Friends of Canyon Scholars

What a moment to recognize:

  • A remarkable pioneer passing the baton to a new director. (p.1) Student progress report. (p. 2)
  • Returns on investment in the Tarahumara “running people.” (p.3), and our new team (p.4)
  • Ways you can help lead, tell others, and move the mission forward! (pp. 5-6)

Even though we (Todd and Colette Svanoe) haven’t met many of you, you feel like extended family. So we’ll share more personally about our treasured January visit. Dad/Ren is stable, though with powers diminished after he collapsed twice with heart episodes, revived by our courageous stepmom Petra, and received a pacemaker on March 19, 2021. So we counted the blessing of every day!

Trip Highlights were:

  • Making up lost time in the back yard with cups of tea on an overturned pickle bucket;
  • Being awakened each morning by their rooster and 4 yapping Chihuahua dogs!
  • Meeting many of our step brothers and sisters (Petra’s children) for the first time, and a steady
    stream of helpful visitors, an outpouring of love that touched us deeply.
  • Todd playfully locking Colette in the chicken pen ‘til she cried “uncle” in Spanish!
  • Walking arm-in-arm to Sunday worship nearby, moved by how united we felt singing and
    praying with their welcoming community, despite the language barrier.

Introducing Nancy Chacon Flores!

Then came the most unexpected moment of all, meeting and becoming fast friends with Nancy, Canyon Scholars’ new Executive Director. We’ve prayed with Dad for a successor for years, but honestly wondered if the program would continue.

Yet we were awed to tears by Nancy’s passion for this student mission, by her professional skills, near-perfect English, and that her great-grandmother was a Tarahumara!

Nancy’s interned with Dad for a year, but said, in essence: “I can’t do this alone,” and we said, “Neither can we!” With Todd’s background as a communications specialist and a nonprofit consultant, and Colette’s financial and administrative skills, we were in. More on p.3.

A Promise Kept, and Pipeline Created!

It’s a Mexican tradition to dunk a celebrant’s face in their cake! Dad lucked out with a kiss from Petra instead. “These have been some of the best days of my life!” he said.

Well Done, Thou Good and Faithful Servant!

Some of you know that Dad almost lost his life on a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters where he heard a call from God, while stranded on a rock for 8 days, and promised to spend his retirement years serving the remote Tarahumara youth of Mexico’s Copper Canyon.

We think he’s kept his promise, but only thanks to 130 of you who helped create a pipeline of compassion from neighbors to the north! To date:

  • 700 students have received educational scholarships over 22 years!
  • 106 students have graduated from college, and 44 more are attending a university!
  • Most, like Alberta (below), return to help their people as teachers, nurses, etc.
  • Our 98 current students survived unthinkable Covid setbacks without resources at home
The map’s blue line shows the 9-hour drive south from El Paso, TX to Dad and Nancy’s home town of Anahuac. The second line continues southwest to the Copper Canyon within the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range where 90 percent of our students were born. This is one of the most dangerous drug-cartel routes in the world!

We celebrate & thank you all for this enormous flow of north-to-south compassion for 22 years!

Student Report: A Mere Bus Pass Helped Alberta Graduate as a Nurse and Change Agent

We celebrate with sponsor Mary Murray the graduation of Alberta Benitez Diaz, 28, as a nurse from the University of Nayarit in Tepic (see the southern state in yellow). Ablerta is passionate about providing medical attention, and eventually electricity, jobs, and better schools to her home community. Ironically, her lack of bus money hurt her grades, until she got her scholarship. Alberta is a gem, who learned from her mother to be respectful, honest, and to work hard for the needy. She plays volleyball on an indigenous women’s team, and starts each day with prayer. She thanks Mary for her compassion, this link to a lifetime of service!

A Fun Fact About Your Athletic Students!

The Tarahumara are world famous as the “running people” who will again host the world’s 15 best ultra- marathoners in October this year in Chihuahua for a 50+ mile race they repeatedly win! Sadly they acquired these superpowers over centuries by having to outrun their foes — first Spanish colonizers and, more recently, land-grabbing deforesters, mountain-mining corporations, and pot-growing drug cartels — withdrawing to the Copper Canyon. Canyon Scholars hopes Tarahumara youth will soon be known for ACADEMICS as well as for ATHLETICISM!

Honoring an Amazing Past: Pivoting to an Amazing Future!

Before we turn the page to another chapter of Canyon Scholars, we want you to appreciate the remarkable community development you’ve been a part of, whether giving one or more scholarships, or giving donations toward Special Projects, reaching out through these unsung heroes, God’s hands and feet.

Trust and Friendships Built

Thanks to Rosario, Scholarships Coordinator, and Mariano, Mexico’s Johnny Appleseed

Here’s another guy who doesn’t know how to retire, bent with back pain because of thousands of fruit trees he’s planted across the land, a gift that will keep on giving! And don’t judge him. This is how 70- somethings take selfies. Plus, he deserves the spotlight. And so does Rosario, our main link all these years dispensing scholarship money across the dangerous Sierra Madre. 

Thanks to this dynamic duo, our point persons to the indigenous world, Canyon Scholars has earned the trust of the peaceful Tarahumara Indians for over two decades, while they’ve developed a network of 6 (soon to be 8) coordinators to hand-deliver scholarships (now transitioning to electronic transfers!).

But that’s not all! Mariano toted bags of concrete mix on his back for miles into the Canyon, building our indigenous friends rain reservoirs for cattle and gardens that would have died during a typical 270 straight days of drought! Dad trained dozens of Garden Club families in Anahuac, while Mariano did so in 40 Tarahumara villages, teaching successful desert-planting methods that made them seem like miracle workers! Then, too, our Lander, Wyoming Rotary sponsors built a library and outdoor courts, starting basketball, volleyball and soccer tournaments in the region. WE LOVE YOU GUYS!
(Read Full Story!)


Will You Help Us Launch 20 More Years of Sustainable Development?!

The Vision.

We’re so grateful that with Ren and Mariano’s declining health, and lapsed communications, so many of you have stayed the course! We had all wondered “What’s Next?” and whether Canyon Scholars would go on. But now that we have an even stronger leadership team, we are not only updating and stabilizing, but hope to expand this mission! We’re looking at how we can reach 100 more sponsors and 1,000 more students in the next 10 years! Then, what people of influence who have never heard of Canyon Scholars may want to donate laptops, bus passes, bikes for kids to commute, or build a boarding school?

We believe that, in a day of such controversy over Latino immigration in America, and so few pro-active solutions, Canyon Scholars shines as a model of educational empowerment, investing frugally at a key source of poverty. We believe that we Americans have been “blessed to be a blessing” to others, including the marginalized in our world. And we live in a rare moment of history where that belief is shared by many Americans, and even more so by younger generations. We know that, because of the timely, high-integrity mission YOU ALL have helped build, “if we keep building this scholarship pipeline, they will come.”

Our Team.

Call it serendipity, an angel in the room, or God’s calling, but the surprise, breadth of skills and timing of this team coming together can also be explained as an answer to many prayers.

Nancy Chacon

Director of Student Relations – Mexico

Our Exec. Director is a former English teacher with a bachelor’s in psychology who has worked with the Tarahumara and been a high school principal. Her husband and 8- year-old son are both named Jesus, so we’re pretty sure we have the right person!

Todd Svanoe

Director of U.S. Donor Relations

Todd’s a chip off the old block as a nonprofit consultant and communications specialist. He is passionate about using organizational “best practices,” about volunteer recruitment, donor promises, and returns on investment.

Colette Svanoe

Financial Administrator

As a teacher, Colette has a natural passion for education and developing children. “As a sponsor, I’m inspired by stories of our educated Scholars building new lives. I bring 17 years of small business experience to help keep C.S. running smoothly.”

Tom Pierce


Treasurer Tom stepped up to this key position with his accounting expertise when we lost co-founding board liaison Jack Westman. Taxes and spreadsheets are right up his alley. “I’m grateful to God for this opportunity to serve. Maybe for 3 more years, but I bow to His timing!”

Rosario Quintana

Outreach Consultant

We are elated that Rosario, as our former scholarships coordinator and outreach consultant, continues to bless us with her boundless energy, keeping us sane and organized as our ongoing advisor and relational link to the Sierra Madre.

A Mission Built of Time, Talent, Teams and Treasure!

How Can You Help?

If your heart races with optimism, like a Tarahumura runner, reading about the wonderful work described above, we ask you to join us in one of 5 ways, with…


Our network of donors understandably slipped from 55 to 35 during Covid and the uncertainties of Dad’s health. It’s time to rebuild!

Annual Scholarship Options:
$250 Middle School
$500 High School
$750 University

For more details, contact us!

Special Thanks

To 15 donors who support 74 of our current 98 students

  • Ed & Margaret Eklof
  • Ron & Joan Halverson
  • Marc Hansen
  • Bonnie Hilt
  • Hart & Josey Jacobsen
  • Bob & Carolyn Jones
  • Fred Kalinoff
  • Terry & Cindy Kinney
  • Kiwanis Club, D-town Madison
  • Lander (Wyoming) Rotary Club
  • Tom Pierce
  • Florian & Louise Smoczynski
  • Duane & Willamae Swenson
  • Luther & Kay Tolo
  • Eugene & Joanne Wilhelm

Donation Hotline: