Take Stock in Children Awards Full Scholarships to 16 Orange County Seniors

A crowd of hundreds of parents, students and community volunteers turned out on Tuesday, Feb. 25, to cheer on 16 Orange County high-school seniors who have earned four-year scholarships to college and the nearly 200 who are working toward that goal, thanks to Orange County’s Take Stock in Children.

The program, which pairs underprivileged kids with mentors, inducts promising 7th graders into the program.  If the students meet with their mentors weekly and can stay out of trouble and earn good grades, they are rewarded with a 2+2 scholarship: two years at one of Florida’s state colleges, followed by two years at one of the state’s universities.

“This opportunity is their golden ticket to a better future,” said Elisha Gonzalez, executive director of Take Stock in Children of Orange County.

At Tuesday’s event, held on Valencia’s West Campus, 16 graduating seniors were awarded scholarships, while 31 new middle school students were inducted into the program. That brings the number of current participants to 215.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Antonia Novello, former U.S. Surgeon General. Novello’s father died when she was eight years old; her mother, a high-school teacher and principal, raised her alone.

“Students: Don’t squander an opportunity like this,” said Dr. Antonia Novello, former U.S. Surgeon General. “And parents: Your child doesn’t have to be brilliant to succeed. They need to be engaged.”

Other speakers at the event included: Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera; Dr. Barbara Jenkins, superintendent of Orange County Public Schools; Bill Sublette, chairman of the Orange County school board; and Augusto Sanabria, statewide president of the Hispanic Business Initiative Fund.

“Congratulations to you for wanting to live the American dream and I look forward to seeing some of you in positions like the one I’m in now,” Lt. Gov. Lopez-Cantera told the incoming middle-school students. “I want to wish you the best of luck. You guys have already done the hardest part — taking the first step.”

Among the 16 seniors celebrating was Justin Tapper, a senior at Wekiva High School. His mentor, attorney Rebecca Rhoden, marveled at the changes she has seen in him and is excited that he’s starting at Stetson University in the fall.  “I know that kids sometimes get off course in their education,” said Rhoden, of Orlando law firm Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed. “I wanted to be there in the event that Justin got off course.”

Take Stock In Children is a statewide initiative that helps underserved children succeed. The mentorship program starts when the children are in seventh grade. All the students are academically promising students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds: Some have parents who’ve been in jail; others have parents who have struggled with addiction, while many have been raised by single moms who are struggling to keep their families afloat financially.

Take Stock in Children was started in 1995 and has been successful state wide. Valencia College brought the program to Orange County in 2008, thanks to a $1 million gift from the Florida Citrus Sports Foundation and another $1 million donation from Mears Transportation. Full Sail University was also one of the first sponsors to sign on.

Other sponsors include: Orlando Magic, the Martin Andersen-Gracia Andersen Foundation, the Haddock Foundation and the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation.

Guests at the event included: Stephanie Allen, executive director, Orlando Magic Youth Foundation; Susan Fernandez of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s office; Linda Landman Gonzalez, vice president of community relations for the Orlando Magic and former president of the Valencia College Foundation; Daisy Lynum, city commissioner, City of Orlando; Deb Mears of Mears Transportation; Rick Singh, Orange County Property Appraiser; and T. Picton Warlow, vice president of the Martin Andersen-Gracia Andersen Foundation.

To see a video about Orange County’s Take Stock In Children program, click on the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyeYZEVCfgQ&feature=player_profilepage