Good springs from tragedy
Late Chico State student’s loved ones hope to establish memorial scholarship
When April Grossberger loaned a textbook to fellow Chico State graduate student Froilan Frias, she came away with a new friend whom she deeply respected for his caring personality and his commitment to their common field of social work.
“I was just really impressed by his presence,” she recalled a half-year later during a recent phone interview. “I was really excited about working with him—I knew we would cross paths when we both graduated and were professionals.”
It was not to be. On Aug. 1, Frias was killed in a motorcycle accident. He was riding up Highway 99 to Red Bluff in pursuit of an internship when a flatbed truck crossed an intersection, straight into his path. He was unable to avoid the collision.
Frias was 38, the second youngest of seven children, living with his parents in Hamilton City. His death sent ripples through the master’s of social work (MSW) program, where in just a year he’d established himself as a class leader and a go-to resource.
“It’s a terrible loss,” said Jean Schuldberg, MSW director at Chico State’s School of Social Work. “He was a very dedicated student—a very sincere, open, conscientious, caring person who really valued social justice. His memory is strong in our hearts. He touched so many lives.”
Grossberger, a former Paradise planning commissioner, said she was “devastated” by the loss. “He left a big impression on me,” she said.
Frias was born in Nogales, Ariz., to farmworker parents from Mexico. He had three brothers and three sisters, including his younger sister, Elba Frias-Caro, a nurse at Enloe Medical Center’s rehabilitation clinic. In 1993, he became the first man in his family to graduate from high school, and he went straight to Chico State University.
Two years into college, Frias joined a fraternity. Over the next two years, he entered what Frias-Caro calls his “dark period,” when he began drinking and using drugs. He dropped out of school and spent 10 years mired in addiction; he entered rehab in 2007 and emerged sober and with “a strong vision” of helping others in difficulty.
Frias re-entered Chico State, taking classes while working part time, and graduated in 2011 with a double major of Spanish and sociology. He worked for a year for the Community Action Agency of Butte County at the Esplanade House, which provides transitional housing for homeless families, and was then accepted into Chico State’s MSW program in 2012.
All the while, he traveled around the region as a speaker for Narcotics Anonymous, hoping to set a positive example.
“He always encouraged other individuals to go for their goals and their dreams,” Frias-Caro said. “He’d say, ‘If I can do it, you can do it.’ He’d share his story anywhere he was invited. He wanted to show it was possible to have a dark background and actually be part of society [as] a re-entry individual.”
At a celebration of life for Frias, Grossberger was introduced to Frias-Caro. Both had separately planned to establish scholarships in his honor; after meeting, they decided to merge their efforts.
The result is the Froilan Frias Master of Social Work Memorial Scholarship. By the end of the year—or more preferably, Nov. 26, his birthday—they’re hoping to build a $10,000 endowment that would generate at least $400 a year to help a graduate student in social work. They’re already more than halfway there, bolstered by a $5,000 gift from Grossberger and her husband after the sale of their Toyota 4Runner.
“I just felt that if he couldn’t live, his name could,” Grossberger said.
“I’m very thankful,” Frias-Caro said of Grossberger’s generosity. “I know that if I continue to push to help keep his memory alive … it will help me to heal and make sure I’m helping individuals [as] I know my brother would like. My brother was a man of service.
“I hope the community can help us make this come true.”
Both Frias-Caro and Grossberger believe the scholarship could help people like Frias: re-entry students, bilingual in English and Spanish, who have faced addiction or another major setback. Male students would be all the better, since women comprise more than 80 percent of all social workers, and male Latino social workers are particularly rare.
Had Frias graduated and entered social work, Schuldberg, the MSW director, said, “He could have made a big impact.”
His family and friends believe he still will through the scholarship endowment, which they hope will pay dividends for years, if not decades.
“To see more Latino men become social workers would really improve the services the social-work field can provide to the citizens of California,” Grossberger said. “The more Latino males we can empower to become graduate students, the better off all of us will be.”