A local philanthropist Nancy Perry celebrated her birthday recently by raising $131,696 for a college scholarship program for at-risk children Take Stock in Children in Alachua that has allowed the organization to offer funding to a record number of students.
Perry held a birthday celebration at the Florida Museum of Natural History on March 30, where she was presented with a check for $114,996. The donations were from members of Oak Hammock at the University of Florida and then matched by Perry.
Since the event, she has fundraised more. People were so moved at the event that they wanted to participate more, creating a snowball effect, she said. The total donation amount is still growing.
Each scholarship costs $4,000, which is then matched by the state, said Tatila Brock, student services coordinator for the Education Foundation in Alachua County.
Through Take Stock in Children, Perry “got to see the different walks of life,” and “how wonderful the children were,” and how without the proper funds the children would not be able to go to college.
The program does not bring in any new students until it has the money. There are 52 seniors graduating in Alachua this year with a scholarship through Take Stock, and the program tries to replace every student and award more scholarships as well, Brock said. This year they have as many as 70 students who are receiving the scholarship – the most ever, she said.
Take Stock in Children is a scholarship foundation that pays for two years of in-state college tuition for at risk, low-income students. Many of the children in the program have parents that work two jobs or live in a single-parent household, Brock said.
In the past five years, the program has tripled in size. Currently, there are around 350 students across Alachua who have a scholarship, said Rachel Debigare, executive director for the Education Foundation in Alachua County.
The main goal currently of Take Stock in Children is to make sure that the program is thriving and growing through fundraising efforts for future scholarships, Debigare said.
The scholarship also pairs up each scholarship-winning student with a mentor. Students have an adult that they can connect with to start and finish the program with, and after they graduate high school many students stay in touch with their mentors, giving them a friend for life, Brock said.
One mentor, Le’Norea Francis, owner of J&B Autism Adventures in Alachua, found a way to get involved in the Alachua community by becoming a mentor for Take Stock. Francis grew up not receiving the support she needed. Instead she had to turn to friends and family to be her mentors.
Now, Francis said, she has found a way to show children in the community a positive role model, and to use her background as a way to inform at-risk children so that they can learn from mistakes that she made in her past.
“Mentors genuinely want to be in this program,” she said. “They want to help someone else find their self-worth”
Mentors meet with their mentees once a week or once every other week at school during lunchtime. Applications for new mentors will open during the summer.
Students apply in sixth grade for the scholarship and are monitored throughout middle and high school to check that they are maintaining at least a 2.5 GPA, are attending school regularly and are not having any disciplinary problems, Alvarez said.
The program also offers its students college tours and college prep such as workshops on subjects such as what it takes to get into college, Debigare said. Take Stock is combatting the competitive college admission process by preparing students earlier, she said.
“We want to make sure that our students are not just college ready but also career ready,” Debigare said when describing programs that inform students on life outside of Gainesville and Alachua county.
Brock said students in Take Stock have a 98 percent graduation rate, whereas at-risk children who are not in the program have a 57 percent graduation rate.
“The kids are good kids, they come from both troubled and good backgrounds,” said Francis. The program allows mentors to “not only be friends” with their mentees, but also “to guide and lead” them.
To find out more about becoming a mentor, call 352-955-7250 or visit the website at http://edfoundationac.org/mentors/ .