FARMINGTON — At its quarterly meeting Wednesday, 4 Corners Employer Education Services awarded tuition scholarships to two local college students who are trying to turn their lives around.

Formerly known as 4 Corners Job Service Employer Connection, 4CEES is a non-profit that educates employers about human resource issues through training seminars and workshops.

The agency awards two scholarships per semester to help students attend San Juan College.

Out of eight recent applicants, Bobby Simpson and Gabriel Nelson were the most qualified to receive the two $669 scholarships, said Betty Asmus, the organization's scholarship and seminar committee chair. The scholarships cover tuition and fees for one semester. The students can continue to apply for the scholarships if they meet eligibility requirements and maintain the minimum required GPA.

"We believe education is an important factor, not only for business professionals, but for students who are trying to make a change," Asmus said.

That's an apt description for both Simpson and Nelson.

Simpson, who lives in Farmington, completed four tours in Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps before returning home to his wife and two small children in 2009. Simpson was chosen as a scholarship recipient because of his community service and volunteer work at his daughter's school, where he was awarded "Father of the Year."

Simpson said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his tours in Iraq and has had trouble focusing on learning. Although he hasn't decided what he wants to study at the college, he said he is appreciative for the chance to make a new start.

"I just want to thank you guys for helping me out," he told the group. "My last tour in Iraq was difficult. I had to leave my family behind, and my grandma, who was my mentor and helped raise me, passed away while I was there. It opened my eyes to coming back home and making a change. I know I'm here for a reason, and I am needed. You guys gave me an opportunity to go to school and help give back to the community."

The other scholarship recipient, Gabriel Nelson, said he also is eager to use his education to give back and hopes to help recovering substance abuse addicts.

Nelson grew up in Many Farms, Ariz., and now lives in Farmington with his fiancée and three children. He dropped out of high school in the tenth grade and said that he spent years abusing drugs and then alcohol, hopping from job to job.

He said that he has spent 10 years locked up. On his final day of incarceration last November, he said something snapped within him, and he decided he wanted to make more out of his life.

"I finally realized I was hurting my family, and hurting myself. After seeing my kids visit me through a screen, on that last day it tore me apart. It opened my eyes," said Nelson.

After being released, he went through alcohol treatment, got his high school diploma and enrolled in San Juan College. Receiving A's and B's his first semester, he finally feels he's found a place where he belongs. Nelson has decided to pursue a bachelor's degree in substance abuse counseling. He hopes to complete the program by 2016.

"I want to help those who are still suffering with their addictions," he said. "I feel like my experience with addiction gives me something to give. Before, I was only worried about when I would get my next drink, but now I'm just excited to get back to school. It makes me feel happy that I will help people, and it will help me with my sobriety."

Leigh Black Irvin covers health for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4610 and Follow her @irvindailytimes on Twitter.