Deonn Crilly: VC Fire Fund


Like so many Ventura County residents, Deonn Crilly was deeply affected by the Thomas Fire during the final days of 2017.

“During the Thomas Fire, I was in EMT school at Ventura College,” recalls the 20-year-old Oxnard native and Ventura College student. “I didn’t have my national EMT license yet, so I wasn’t able to help out as much as I wanted to, but I did volunteer. I went to the Oxnard College Red Cross Evacuation Center and helped set up operations there.”

Deonn and his family were evacuated from their home in Ventura for several days. Ventura College was shut down for a few weeks at the end of the fall semester, so he couldn’t attend the classes needed to receive his licensing. He also lost out on much-needed funding he would have received from his work-study program through the college’s Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS). To complicate matters further, Deonn was using some of that funding to pay for his EMT registration testing fees.

Deonn Crilly

As the Thomas Fire stretched on for days and then weeks, and grew into the costliest wildfire in California history, Deonn — along with many other Ventura College students — received a major assist thanks to a Ventura College Foundation VC Emergency Fire Fund Grant.

Because of the more than $50,000 in donated support, the Emergency Fire Fund helped students like Deonn get their lives back on track in the wake of the Thomas Fire.

Deonn has overcome many challenges during his young life. He grew up in foster care and saw his baby brother pass away when he was just five years old. And of course, he’s had to readjust to life a good bit since living through the Thomas Fire.

Deonn has come a long way. You might even say he’s enjoyed a long, deep dive. Or several of them.

Deonn recalls hearing about Ventura College and its swimming and diving program while competing in a CIF tournament for Rio Mesa, and during his time at Ventura College he has competed as part of the Pirates’ diving team. On Fridays, he can often be found assisting diving coach Ann Wright with the instruction of budding divers at the Pleasant Valley Aquatic Center.

“The kids are anywhere from eight to 15 years old,” said Deonn. “I love helping my coach out there. It’s amazing to see how much progress those kids can make. It’s extraordinary to watch.”

Deonn’s own dream is to reach the state college diving finals, head to USA Diving Nationals, and land a diving scholarship to a university. He wants to become a pediatrician.

In the meantime, he attends classes at Ventura College while working as an EMT in Van Nuys. Soon, he plans to enroll in the Ventura College Paramedic Program.

The Ventura College Foundation has helped Deonn continue to dive into his dreams, including assisting him with scholarship funding during his college career.

“My great grandpa always said that education comes first,” says Deonn. “You can’t move forward with anything without education. I can’t thank Ventura College enough for all the help and everything they’ve taught me.”

Deonn is particularly eager to credit EOPS, which assisted him with not just the work-study program and funding, but also bus passes and impactful counseling services.

“The EOPS counselors, they really focus on you and what you want to do,” says Deonn. “They’ve helped push me forward so much.”

Deonn hopes his own story can help others to push forward. “As long as you have the drive and the will and the ability to ask the questions, you can pretty much do whatever you put your mind to at Ventura College,” says Deonn. “They’ll help you.”