20 TH ANNIVERSARY // INSTRIDE
CON T E N TS
4 THE STATISTICS
6 THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD
Focused on the future
The numbers add up to student success
From Bangladesh to Boston with a mentor as her guide
BLUEPRINT FOR SUCCESS 12
A caring mentor helps build an engineer
18 UP FROM RURAL POVERTY
A physician’s mentorship is the perfect prescription
BROTHERS’ KEEPERS 25
At-risk twins find high-profile help
Editor’s note: The stories in this issue of InStride were reported and written by John Pulley, a freelance writer and editor based in Arlington, Va. Pulley, a professional journalist specializing in education issues for more than two decades, is a former staff writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education.
wenty years ago, Take Stock in Children founders had a bold vision of making a difference for Florida children. Since then, Take Stock in Children has grown into a statewide partnership among people from all walks of life, public and private organizations, and generous donors. Together we have served more than 24,000 youth. We have seen firsthand how a successful public-private partnership can transform disadvantaged kids. We have seen volunteers from diverse backgrounds — business people, retired workers, teachers and others — mentor at-risk children who thrived because a caring adult helped them develop their gifts and reach their potential. We have seen a broad range of donors provide financial support to a program they believe in because it works. We have seen students and parents meet the challenge of accountability. We have seen how the promise of a four-year scholarship and a better life can steer a child in the right direction. Yes, it takes a village. We have seen Take Stock in Children build and renew villages all over Florida. For 20 years, Take Stock in Children has striven to change one community at a time, one family at a time, one young person at a time. Our primary purpose is and always has been to liberate Florida’s at-risk students from intergenerational poverty and to transform them into
NOW MORE THAN EVER, WE MUST
TAKE STOCK IN OUR CHILDREN
productive adults who contribute to their communities. TSIC scholars take from the village; they give back to it, too. Education is our lever of change; it’s the tool we use to dislodge patterns of poverty and despair. Despite economic disadvantages and other risk factors, Take Stock in Children scholars graduate from high school, attend college and earn postsecondary credentials at higher rates than those among Florida’s student population as a whole — and at rates far above those of other at-risk kids: • 96 percent of Take Stock scholars graduate from high school. • 87 percent enter college. • 59 percent graduate from college. By comparison, only about 57 percent of at-risk, non-TSIC kids in Florida even earn a high school diploma, and just 28 percent of the kids in that cohort enter college. Take Stock’s numbers are impressive, but behind each statistic is a bigger truth: Take Stock in Children helps kids and their families to succeed. Take Stock in Children is an intensely personal program. The emphasis on local partnerships promotes village culture and intimate relationships. Community leaders know us, and we know them. Middle school teachers and guidance counselors nominate children for our program. Parents of Take Stock scholars
become involved in the program in accordance with a “contract” they sign. Weekly meetings between scholars and mentors often grow into deep and transformative relationships that change both participants. Lovely Noel, a TSIC college success coach, has given money to families whose children couldn’t afford bus fare to get to classes. “I’m very passionate about my students,” Noel says. “I want to see them win.” It’s that commitment and caring that makes Take Stock in Children work. To date, we have served almost 24,000 at-risk kids. Consider Caitlin Martinez, who grew up in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood. Her mother is from Nicaragua, her father from Honduras; neither graduated high school. They wanted their daughter to go to college, but they knew of no way to get her there. The Take Stock program did, however. Martinez entered the program in 2006. Determined to keep the scholarship she had been promised, Martinez kept her grades up and abided by other program requirements. “They were so generous with me,” says Martinez, a third-year student at Florida International University. Today, we are working to be even more effective. One such area is our support of students when they enter college. Take Stock has received two i3 Education Grant Awards from the U.S. Department of Education. Those funds allowed us to
pilot our College Readiness and Retention program. With the support of the Florida Legislature, Take Stock in Children has scaled this pilot to all programs across the state. We are also establishing support groups comprising TSIC graduates on college campuses. Now more than ever, we must ensure that all young people have access to postsecondary opportunities; those opportunities are vital to their success — and critical to our nation’s prosperity.
Madeline Pumariega President and CEO Take Stock in Children
Ted Carter Chairman Take Stock in Children
Photo: TSIC President Madeline Pumariega (right) with Take Stock scholar Camila Apolito.
FOCUSED ON THE FUTURE
REFLECTING ON THE PAST FOCUSED ON THE FUTURE
ake Stock in Children was founded in the early 1990s to combat a troubling and persistent dropout rate that plagued the public school system in Tampa. Created by a local education foundation with the backing of concerned community leaders, the initiative sought to give high-potential, low-income students the resources they needed to graduate from high school, go to college, and “set their course of life,” says Don Pemberton, Take Stock in Children’s founder. “We were looking to be transformative.” From the outset, the program was elegantly simple. It recruited participants in middle school, early enough in their lives to make a difference; it provided four-year scholarships that couldn’t be revoked as long as students followed a few simple rules; it provided scholars with adult mentors; and the program carefully monitored students’ progress. Take Stock in Children emphasized responsibility and accountability among students, their parents and mentors.
The program was inclusive and intensely local, bringing together not only students and school personnel, but outside volunteers, philanthropists, religious groups, civic organizations, the social-services sector and for-profit businesses. The idea was to “engage all facets of the community,” Pemberton says. It succeeded. In 1995, the Tampa program served 500 students, and businesses took notice, recognizing Take Stock’s potential as a tool for building a more educated workforce. Among other firms, Florida’s largest bank urged the program to expand. Within a year, Take Stock in Children had autonomous affiliate programs — franchises essentially — in every Florida county. The simplicity and flexibility of the program and its emphasis on local control helped it to thrive in diverse environments. Nearly two decades since Take Stock in Children became a statewide program, it has
TAKE STOCK IN CHILDREN THROUGH THE YEARS
1995 1995 Co-Chairman Charlie Rice
Take Stock in Children (TSIC) is established as a nonprofit organization in Florida that provides a unique opportunity for deserving, low-income youth, many from minority families, to break the cycle of poverty through education.
2000 Chairman Pat Moran
Co-Chairman Howard Jenkins
First Scholarship Day, TSIC’s firstever campaign, signs up students in 44 counties throughout Florida.
1999 TSIC celebrates its first graduating class.
FOCUSED ON THE FUTURE
Never has there been a worse time to be educationally underqualified. Most of the new jobs being created require some type of postsecondary education, a trend that experts say will continue and become more pronounced. served more than 24,000 low-income, at-risk children. Today, demand remains strong for the type of intervention that Take Stock in Children provides. If anything, demographic changes during the past 20 years have increased the sense of urgency: Growing wealth disparity means that many would-be students are being priced out of the postsecondary market as the cost of attending college rises faster than family incomes. For millions of Americans, incomes are stagnant or in decline. Aside from older Americans, the percentage of people who have earned a college degree has declined — a trend that adds to the pool of prospective first-generation, traditional-age college students. Research shows that these and other factors lessen the chances that academically qualified students will attend college and earn a meaningful credential. Never has there been a worse time to be educationally underqualified. Most of the new jobs being created require some type of
postsecondary education, a “new normal” that experts say will continue and become more pronounced. More than ever, at-risk children need help. In the following pages, you’ll meet Take Stock in Children scholars who have received it. They have succeeded despite multiple risk factors, everything from poverty and language barriers to cultural, racial and environmental impediments. There is Anika Yasmin, an immigrant living in Key West; Terrence Miller, a first-generation African American student from Brevard County; and Johnny Atwell, who grew up in a rural area of Florida’s panhandle. Theirs are inspiring stories — stories of hope and promise. But they’re also a call to action, a reminder of what can happen when caring adults get involved in the lives of children, a reminder of why we continue to do what we do. Without Take Stock in Children, none of these stories could have been told.
2000 Governor Jeb Bush launches a statewide mentoring initiative in Miami. This sets the stage for increased state funding for the organization in future years.
Chairman Paul Avery
Chairman Mike Maroone
TSIC celebrates its 10th anniversary with annual Rally in Tally Event.
Chairman Richard Berkowitz
Launch of TSIC Mentor Mobile highlights the importance of mentorship and serves as a mobile mentor recruitment office.
Chairman Joe Formusa
TSIC kicks off TurboCharge campaign to grow programs across the state.
FOCUSED ON THE FUTURE
BOARD OF DIRECTORS Theodore Carter Chairman, Take Stock in Children Executive Director/CEO Office of Economic Development Madeline Pumariega President and CEO, Take Stock in Children Mark Asofsky President, Asofsky Family Foundation Richard A. Berkowitz Managing Director, Berkowitz Pollack Brant Husein Cumber Executive Vice President, Corporate Development Florida East Coast Industries Claudia Davant Partner, Adams St. Advocates Doug Durand Dean Emeritus, College of Business, University of Missouri Salvador Ferradas Senior Vice President of US Trust, Bank of America Wealth Management
Joe Zednik Chairman, Immokalee Foundation
Christine Fuhrman Manager, State Governmental Affairs, Florida Power & Light
Eric Zeitlin Managing Director, Provenance Wealth Advisors
Tom Jacoby Corporate Development Officer and Chairman, Tymphany
Josh Leibowitz Chief Strategy Officer, Carnival Corporation
Frank Brogan Former Chancellor, State University System of Florida
Donald P. Pemberton, Ph.D. Director, University of Florida, Lastinger Center for Learning
Eduardo J. Padron President, Miami Dade College Rick Scott Governor of Florida
Vince Roig Chairman of the Board, Helios Education Foundation Kate Santoro Co-founder, Santoro Life Skills Foundation
Jared M. Torres President, Take Stock in Children Alumni Alliance
Maria A. Sastre President and Chief Operating Officer, Signature Flight
Nathaniel Glover City Council Trustee, City of Jacksonville
Kim Sweers Partner, FastBoats Marine Group
Jim Horne Former Commissioner of Education, Florida Department of Education
Jason Taylor Jason Taylor Foundation
Ethan Fieldman Founder and President, Study Edge
Mark Volchek Managing Director, Top Floor Capital
Alan Florez Executive Vice President, Brown & Brown of Florida, Inc.
Drew Weatherford Partner, Weatherford Partners Strategos Public Affairs
Howard M. Jenkins Chairman of the Executive Committee, Publix Super Markets, Inc. Michael E. Maroone President & COO, Autonation, Inc.
2010 TSIC is one of 49 innovative programs nationwide awarded funds from the U.S. Department of Educationâ€™s Investing in Innovation (i3) grant program. To support the effort, the Helios Education Foundation provides financial resources, services and support needed to ensure student success through college.
2012 Leaders 4 Life Fellows are recognized at the annual Leadership Summit in Tallahassee. Created in partnership with the Asofsky Family Foundation, the Fellowship provides financial resources, services and support needed to ensure student success through college.
2013 The third annual Strides for Education event held by 10 programs in Florida raised nearly $1 million in scholarships and had more than 5,000 supporters.
Chairman Don Pemberton
The Alumni Alliance is officially started to connect the network of more than 8,000 TSIC mentors to their efforts to support the organization by connecting alumni on their university or college campuses and sharing alumni stories of success.
Chairman Ted Carter
TSIC increases support and services to ensure students are college and career ready and was awarded a second i3grant.
THE STATISTICS 2011 OPPAGA* MENTORING STUDY RESULTS Take Stock in Children students outperform their peers.
Take Stock in Children Comparison Group Statistically Significant (95%)
Chronic absences (21 or more days)
Reading at grade level (FCAT)
Performing math at grade level (FCAT)
High school completion
Higher education participation
*Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability
PROVIDING OPPORTUNITIES FOR LOW-INCOME, AT-RISK CHILDREN Financial support of private partners and state matching funds help us to grow and serve more students. Middle/High School Students
’96 ’97 ’98 ’99
500 1,103 1,900 2,977 4,478
’00 ’01 ’02 ’03
5,862 6,697 7,324
’04 ’05 ’06 ’07 ’08 ’09
10,038 11,001 11,962 13,341
’11 ’12 ’13
15,150 17,027 18,380 19,500 22,602
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OUR INVESTMENT 9.4%
State support services | $2.2m
Local program services | $5.7m
Volunteer/mentoring | $2.2m
Scholarships | $13.2m
PROGRAM MODEL Take Stock in Children achieves success through an innovative multiyear program of mentorship, case management, accountability and scholarships.
SCHOLARSHIP ACQUISITION Take Stock in Children is the largest nonprofit purchaser of Florida Prepaid Foundation Scholarships, with Assets Totaling More Than $149M.
$148M $135M $80M $40M
’96 ’97 ’98 ’99 ’98 ’00 ’01 ’02 ’03 ’04 ’05 ’06 ’07 ’08 ’09 ’10 ’11 Cumulative since 1995. Percent growth represents average year-to-year growth. Source: Take Stock in Children
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Anika Yasmin, a first-year biomedical engineering student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has come a long way. Born in Bangladesh, she came to this country in 1998 at age 2. Today, thanks in part to TSIC, sheâ€™s pursuing academic and career goals that she once thought were unattainable.
THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD How a girl from South Asia found her way to MIT
here is no easy way to get from Bangladesh to an good government job installing telephone lines. Yasmin’s elite university in Boston. And the trip is doubly mother, Papia Yasmin, a homemaker in Bangladesh, tough if you’re a young girl beset by poverty, finished 10th grade, the equivalent of a high school diploma cultural bias, family illness, a language barrier and some here, and studied for two more years at the senior secondary sticky confidence issues. “college” level. For decades, the education attainment by Yet the story of one Take Stock in Children scholar, girls in Bangladesh was well below that of boys. Anika Yasmin, can serve as a guide. In 1998, at age 2, “We had a pretty good life in Bangladesh, but my parents Anika moved with her family from Bangladesh to Key knew we could do better,” Yasmin says. “They knew we West. It was a calculated risk. No one in the family spoke could get a better education in the United States.” much English. Anika’s parents knew that just getting by in The family entered the lottery for United States visas, a strange land would be a struggle. They came anyway. and when their number came up, they didn’t think twice “They wanted us to have a better education,” Yasmin says. about moving. They came to Key West, the southernmost The gamble paid off. Last fall, Yasmin enrolled in an point of the continental United States, and shared an undergraduate biomedical engineering program at the apartment with one of many local Bangladeshi families Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her older brother, that had relocated there. Yasmin’s parents dreamed that Ishtiaque Ahmed, also a TSIC scholar, is a graduate of the their daughter would become a doctor. University of Central Florida. Yasmin made it to MIT in Life was hard. The parents washed dishes in restaurants, large part because of Cali Roberts, a Take Stock in then came home and hand-washed the family’s clothing. Children mentor who met with her once a week for six They had no car and few appliances. “They didn’t speak years. During the course of some 300 conversations, the English very well, so they couldn’t get good jobs,” Yasmin older woman was a friend, mentor, advocate, teacher and says. “My parents worked a lot.” problem solver. “She believed in me more than I believed in myself,” What little free time they had was spent learning proper Yasmin says. “I could not have gotten a better mentor.” English, which first meant unlearning the English grammar Their relationship exemplifies the transformative power they’d been taught in Bangladeshi schools. Yasmin and her of Take Stock in Children’s program — an innovative, family studied with tutors at Literacy Volunteers of multiyear program of mentorship, case management, America, and on weekends they spent time at the library. accountability and scholarships. Yasmin says becoming a As the family’s literacy improved, so did its circumstances. Take Stock in Children scholar changed her life. Without Yasmin’s father landed a job as a chef, and her mother got the experience, “I think I would have fulfilled my own work as a cashier. They moved into a house. Suddenly, prophecy of being average.” “we’re not sharing with anybody,” Yasmin recalls. The family acquired a car, appliances and a coveted television. “We didn’t have cable, though,” Yasmin says. Seeking a better life By second grade, Yasmin had graduated from her elementary school’s English as a Second Language program Yasmin’s father, Muhammad Tarafder, is from Tangail, and worked her way into regular classes. By third grade, Bangladesh. Before emigrating, he had earned a degree in she was in the gifted program. By seventh grade, Yasmin Islamic studies from the University of Dhaka. He had a
LONG AND WINDING ROAD
Left : Anika Yasmin hopes her MIT training will eventually help her “develop technology that reconnects the brains of stroke victims with their nonfunctioning limbs.” Right: Anika with her 11-year-old sister, Atia. As their mother recuperated from a paralyzing stroke, Anika cared for her younger sibling.
had skipped two years of math and was taking ninth-grade algebra and other advanced classes. “Everything was pretty good,” she says. It was around this time, a pivotal one for many students, that a teacher recommended Yasmin for the TSIC scholars program. (TSIC often relies on teachers and school administrators to identify and nominate deserving low-income students at risk of not reaching their educational goals.) Her parents, who knew about the program from her brother’s participation, urged Yasmin to seek it out.
Bound by contract Take Stock in Children is a rigorous program that insists on high expectations and high accountability among students, parents and mentors. Underscoring that rigor, TSIC scholars and their mentors sign contracts promising to abide by the program’s rules: maintain good grades; stay drug free and crime free; exhibit good citizenship; and attend regular mentor-mentee meetings. It was at Yasmin’s signing ceremony that she and Cali Roberts met for the first time. Roberts was on leave from work to care for her youngest child. (Her oldest daughter and Yasmin are the same age.) Yasmin’s father and younger sister attended the signing at Horace O’Bryant Middle
School. Yasmin had prepared for the occasion by practicing her signature for a week. “They impress on students that this is a contract” for attaining a scholarship, Roberts says. “I had to sign, too.” Ceremony and solemnity help drive home the point that the scholarship is a long-term goal, one that must be attained through years of work. “It’s hard to understand at that age what it means,” Yasmin says. Week after week, they talked about goal-setting, building positive values and academic skills. They dished about life, the world, religion, politics and other topics. They got to know each other very well, Roberts says. “It was like a yenta session. … She gave me a new perspective. She made me a more well-rounded person.”
A relationship builds By the time Yasmin entered high school, she and Roberts were tight. They could talk about anything. If Yasmin had a problem, Roberts was there to help. “As she matured, our conversations matured,” Roberts says. When Yasmin started high school and couldn’t afford to pay the deposit on a locker, Roberts came up with the money. And when the locker she was assigned turned out to be at the far corner of the school’s outdoor campus,
Anika Yasmin credits her mentor, Cali Roberts, with life-changing influence. “She believed in me more than I believed in myself,” Yasmin says. “I could not have gotten a better mentor.”
Cali Roberts (left) shares a laugh with Anika Yasmin, whom she has mentored since the younger woman was in seventh grade. Despite a stellar academic record, Anika had always considered herself “average;” Roberts helped her see the truth about herself.
LONG AND WINDING ROAD
Roberts helped Yasmin trade up. The younger woman, hesitant to make waves, was emboldened to stand up for herself and ask for a locker in a better location because her mentor came to the school and provided backup. “I was switched to the ideal, perfect locker,” Yasmin says. “She was a problem solver.” After her sophomore year of high school, Roberts encouraged her mentee to venture further outside her comfort zone. Yasmin won a competition that allowed her to experience Scotland. As a result, Yasmin traveled there with other Take Stock in Children scholars to be part of the Experiment in International Living program. Yasmin stayed with a host family she had never met.
Yasmin says becoming a Take Stock in Children scholar changed her life. Without the experience, she says, “I think I would have fulfilled my own prophecy of being average.”
Choosing her own path
“Pretty good for a female from a strict Muslim family,” she says. “Some of the things I’ve done are unheard of... Cali pushed me to be exceptional.” A pattern emerged. Yasmin would tell Roberts about interesting opportunities that the younger woman assumed were out of her league. “I would bring her these things and say ‘I can’t do it,’” she recalls. “I’ve always thought those things are out of reach for me. I’m good, but those things are a little bit better.” When mulling her college choices, for example, she initially dismissed MIT, Johns Hopkins University and other elite institutions. “I realized that I had the GPA and the SAT scores (to get into a selective university), and I still didn’t think I could do it.” Her insecurity flew in the face of her academic accomplishments: class valedictorian; an unweighted 4.0 GPA (4.72 weighted); the first student in Key West to score a “5” on five Advanced Placement exams in one year — and the first to earn a 5 on the physics exam.
“I thought I was average,” Yasmin says. And so it was Roberts who “broke the news” that there’s nothing average about Yasmin. To help students identify themselves as “college material,” Take Stock exposes them to a college readiness curriculum. Trained college success coaches give workshops that prepare the program’s scholars for ACT and SAT exams; take them on college tours; and help them with the college application process. The mentor continued to push the young woman, encouraging Yasmin to apply for the Engineering Experience at MIT, a summer program that challenges talented high school students to solve thorny engineering problems. Yasmin traveled to the Cambridge campus and became part of a team that worked on a sophisticated design project. Her job was to calculate a structure’s drag coefficient. “It was a really cool experience staying up with these kids until 1 in the morning,” she says. By challenging herself, she began to believe in herself. “Take Stock gave me confidence,” Yasmin says. “It opened doors emotionally.”
When Yasmin first met Roberts, the seventh-grader wanted to be a forensic scientist. That goal changed, of course, but one career goal remained constant. “I just didn’t want to be a doctor,” says Yasmin. “At first I was going to do it to please my parents,” she admits, but Roberts suggested that yielding to her parents’ wishes wasn’t her only option. “We spent many sessions talking about how to tell them that she wouldn’t be a doctor,” Roberts says. The big test of Yasmin’s resilience and her mentor’s support came unexpectedly. It was September 2013, the start of her senior year. Yasmin was taking six AP classes, studying to retake the SAT and tutoring to make money when her mother, 38, had a paralyzing stroke. “Everything had gone so well to that point,” Yasmin says. With her brother at school and her father having to work, Yasmin became her mother’s primary caregiver. She also assumed the responsibilities that her mother could no longer handle, such as caring for her younger sister, Atia. Yasmin arranged medical appointments and took her mother to see neurologists and a physical therapist. “She became the parent of the family,” Roberts says. “It was such a dark time,” Yasmin recalls. The meeting times of her classes conflicted with her mother’s healthcare needs. “I was missing so much school to take care of my mom.” She needed to rearrange her schedule, but said she “was afraid to go in and request such a big thing” of the school’s administrators. Once again, Roberts stepped up. She understood what her mentee was going through, having cared for a husband with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. She recommended physical therapists and, advocating on Yasmin’s behalf, helped change her mentee’s class schedule. “Without her help, I don’t know what we would have done,”
Yasmin says. “I was trying so hard, but I was a kid. It wasn’t anything I could have handled by myself.” Her mother continues to recover, and Yasmin, the first-year college kid and former would-be medical student, has a new direction. “My goal is to develop technology that reconnects the brains of stroke victims with their nonfunctioning limbs.” Asked how she is managing at MIT without a mentor, Yasmin rejects the premise of the question. She and Roberts have kept in touch. “I’m not going to be without Cali.”
BY THE NUMBERS
1 state 67
896 middle & high schools
Yasmin visits Higgs Beach with fellow TSIC and Key West High student Zachary Stratton, who is attending Florida State University to study engineering. All 37 students who were in Yasmin’s Monroe County TSIC program were accepted into college.
As a child, Terrence Miller spent hours playing with Lego blocks, particularly the Space Shuttle set. Today, at age 31, he works for NASA as a structural engineer â€” thanks in part to his TSIC mentor. 16
A BLUEPRINT FOR SUCCESS Drive and a caring mentor kept him on the right path
errence Miller was a reserved kid, a natural observer “I was a typical student who had a good family support fascinated with the way things fit together in the system,” says Miller, a laid-back, soft-spoken man who physical world. Beginning in elementary school, his wears glasses and a well-groomed goatee. He had no interests gravitated toward design. “I liked to draw. I was obvious disadvantages, no behavior problems. He had into Legos. I liked putting things together and a good childhood. deconstructing them,” Miller says. Yet the simple facts of his being black, coming from a His favorite Lego set was the Space Shuttle — not low-income family and not having a parent with a degree surprising for a boy who grew up in Rockledge in the meant that, statistically, his chances of attaining his goal shadow of the Kennedy Space Center. The fact that were diminished. Miller’s father worked at NASA for 20 years might have First-generation college kids often lack the guidance had something to do with the son’s predilection. Theodore needed to navigate sometimes-bewildering college pathways. Miller was a janitor. Also, as a student of color, Miller faced another barrier to Today, at age 31, Terrence Miller works for NASA success: the unrelenting drumbeat of negative stereotypes. himself. He’s an architectural engineer, responsible for Too often in today’s media and culture, “young black assessing the structural integrity of buildings at the males are portrayed as being criminals,” says Williams. Kennedy Space Center. When Miller was in middle school, “We have to make them understand that not everyone is.” his odds of landing a NASA career weren’t good; he was Williams has a simple antidote for these corrosive cultural an African American teen from a home in which neither messages, one that aligns with Take Stock in Children’s parent had a college degree. Miller’s journey wasn’t quite emphasis on personal accountability: “Abide by the rules a moon shot, but it was certainly a long shot. and everything will work out,” he tells young people. He made it, in part, because Take Stock in Children gave Miller the scholarship that fueled his unlikely adventure and provided the mentor who influenced its trajectory. A late entrant Reuben Williams, a longtime employee of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, helped Miller stay the course Miller became a Take Stock in Children scholar in the at a time when the young man was “figuring out who ninth grade, a year or two later than is typical. A guidance I was and who I wanted to be.” counselor recommended him for the program. Williams helped by providing clear direction and a steadying Williams heard about Take Stock mentoring hand. “I was there to keep him encouraged to go to college opportunities at the local high school where he was and become a productive human being,” Williams says. coaching girl’s basketball. “They were asking for volunteers, and I wanted to be a mentor,” Williams says. “My stipulation was that I mentor a young man.” ‘A typical student’ Williams and Miller met on Wednesdays at Rockledge High School. They would sit under a pavilion, eat lunch and Miller and his younger sister were raised in a stable, talk. “The initial conversation was getting to know each two-parent, dual-income, “close-knit family,” he says. His other, what subjects he liked and didn’t like,” Williams says. mother still works as an optometrist’s assistant. His father is retired. At school, Miller did well, earning A’s and B’s. “It was like a big brother-type situation. Just hanging out.”
BLUEPRINT FOR SUCCESS
Left: Even though he knew from a young age that college was in his future, Terrence Miller still faced many barriers as a young black male seeking to become a first-generation college student. Right: Miller’s TSIC mentor, Reuben Williams (right), laments modern culture’s propensity to view “young black males … as being criminals. We have to make them understand that not everyone is.”
For many kids, middle school and high school are peer pressure cookers — insular environments fraught with academic peril and social quicksand. For young people with undeveloped coping skills, it can be draining. Often kids have precious little time or emotional bandwidth for self-assessment or imagining life beyond high school. Miller recalls the meetings with Williams as “a way of getting away and focusing on something else. It gave me time to leave the thought process of school and understand the kind of man I wanted to become.” During their get-togethers, Williams would talk about “life experiences” and share stories about his three daughters. It was life-changing for Miller. “I knew I had to find my niche,” he says. Simply put, Williams inspired the young man.
A blueprint for success Over time, Miller’s interest in design coalesced into professional ambition. When a member of his extended family was having a house built, he wanted to be involved in every step of the process. He discovered floor plans and found a calling. He shared his epiphany with Williams, who arranged for
Miller to meet a friend for lunch at the man’s office. The friend, an architect, talked to Miller about his work and showed the teen some of his architectural drawings. “I was so into design,” Miller recalls, and that meeting really “put things into perspective. Throughout high school, I knew I wanted to be an architect.” It was a turning point for Miller, allowing him to truly envision himself as an architect. The dream became real, and the path to reach that dream was suddenly illuminated. “I had an example in front of me,” Miller says. “I knew the consequences of doing the right thing or not doing the right thing.” And if ever he forgot what “the right thing” was, Williams was there to remind him: “Get good grades. Get your education. Be a good citizen in the community.” Miller pursued his goal with zeal, taking every drafting class available at his high school. Carolyn Gannon, a drafting instructor, became his favorite teacher. He earned his high school diploma in 2001, and then he was off to college. The five-year architecture program was “very hard,” says Miller, who stuck it out and graduated with fewer than a dozen other dedicated students. No doubt he drew strength from those meetings with Williams, a man of faith who had told him: “You have to do good for yourself and for God.”
TERRENCE Williams (left) is a longtime employee of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Miller, his mentee, is an architectural engineer charged with ensuring the structural integrity of buildings at the Kennedy Space Center. The pair took time recently to revisit the Visitor Complex at the Center.
As a youth, Miller says, his regular meetings with Williams were “a way of getting away and focusing on something else. It gave me time to leave the thought process of school and understand the kind of man I wanted to become.”
BLUEPRINT FOR SUCCESS
A two-way street When it comes to “doing good for yourself,” Williams practices what he preaches. For him — and for most mentors — the mentoring relationship isn’t just about helping a young person; it’s also about self-improvement. “When you mentor people, you learn things about yourself,” Williams says. “When you’re trying to teach somebody the right way of life, you have to do the right thing. It puts a light on you. They’re observing you, and you want them to observe good behavior.” Williams felt the power of mentoring personally, and at a young age. He says his motivation to help guide young people “stemmed from my dad. He was a mentor of sorts to young kids.” His father employed teens in his lawn care company, and he supervised younger kids at a local recreation center. “Watching him work with young people was an inspiration for me. If you train them up the right way, they will not stray too far,” Williams says. “The younger they are the better.”
Parents are vital, of course, in the development of young people, but it’s also important that teens have adults in their lives from outside the home. “I had a lot of good examples of (responsible) men when I was younger,” Williams says. “My dad handpicked mentors to groom me into who he wanted me to be.” Williams says his greatest satisfaction is seeing Miller mature and make progress toward his goals. “It’s a good feeling to give back to somebody who’s trying to make life good for themselves,” he says. When Miller graduated and the weekly mentoring sessions ended, “it was rough,” says Williams, who turned 59 in September. “I miss those meetings. It was very rewarding.”
He’s done his part It’s been 17 years since Miller and Williams first met. Since then, the younger man has met his mentor’s expectations to get good grades, go to college, get an education, be a good citizen and become a productive
Miller visits Cocoa’s Riverfront Park, one of his favorite places to hang out and watch rocket launches when he was a kid.
It’s a good feeling to give back to somebody who’s trying to make life good for themselves. - Reuben Williams
human being. If anything, he has exceeded them. “He’s done his part. Now it’s time to show him that I’ve received his teachings,” Miller says. “I’ve had to grow and improve myself.” Following graduation from college, in 2006, Miller held architecture jobs in Atlanta, Birmingham, Ala., and Raleigh, N.C. He earned a master’s degree in landscape architecture and a graduate certificate in city design. He’s now studying to become a licensed landscape architect. Miller became a mentor himself when he attended graduate school, volunteering with a program created by a former police officer to help at-risk youth. “My role was to facilitate the meetings and to show that I’m a good citizen,” Miller says. The message was: “I’m successful. You can be successful.” Like his mentor before him, Miller had to be authentic and “show that I’m doing this as well,” he says. “If I’m telling these kids to do this, I have to do it. It’s like planting a seed.” The kid who had a fascination all those years ago with Legos and the way things fit together has locked into an enduring truth. If you’ve been given a hand, you have an obligation to extend your hand. That’s a philosophy you can build on.
BY THE NUMBERS
2 million mentor hours
colleges & universities
engaged throughout Florida
Johnny Atwell (right), owes a lot to his TSIC mentor, Dr. John Voorhis. Voorhis, a retired cardiac surgeon, began working with Atwell when the younger man was a high school sophomore in the impoverished central panhandle town of Fountain, Fla.
UP FROM RURAL POVERTY With his mentor as a guide, panhandle teen finds a new path
They’ve been married for 33 years. arly in Johnny Atwell’s eighth-grade year, the guidance counselor at Merritt Brown Middle A decade after Velma Atwell gave birth to a daughter, School, in Panama City, called him into her office Johnny was born and the family moved to Fountain — for a chat that would change his life — perhaps even save it. rural, sparsely populated, quiet. “Everyone knew The counselor, Martha Simmons got straight to the point. everybody,” he says of his early years in Fountain, an “She asked me, ‘Johnny, what are you going to do about college?’” unincorporated community in Bay County. Panama City he says. “I told her: ‘There is no way I can afford it.’ ” is the county seat, and nearby Panama City Beach is part The following week, Simmons delivered a package to of a crescent-shaped, 100-mile stretch of coastline on the Atwell and told him to “sit down and fill this out,” he says. Gulf of Mexico known as the Emerald Coast. Over the next three days, he did the paperwork and wrote Until Johnny reached third grade, his mother worked as the essays required of students seeking admission to the a physical education teacher for the local school system. Take Stock in Children (TSIC) scholars program. Hanging Then she became “a lunch lady” in a school cafeteria, in the balance was a chance for him to go to college. sometimes getting in trouble for putting too much food Atwell could hardly imagine. He is from Fountain, a on the plates of hungry children. “I get my love of cooking gritty patch in the state’s central panhandle — far from the from my mother,” Atwell says. In the evenings she tended glitz of Miami’s South Beach and the sparkle of Disney’s bar at a local pub, Attitudes — a job that lasted until the Magic Kingdom in Orlando. It’s a place of dirt roads and joint burned down when Johnny was 10. double-wides. It’s a place where college is for someone else. Atwell’s father worked in the construction business “I grew up watching other kids and families go without food,” and taught Johnny to build things. The young man used he says. “Kids would wear the same clothes for a week straight.” those skills to construct porches and ramps for people in A few months after Atwell completed the application, the community. He also mowed the lawns of elderly a letter arrived in the mail. He had been accepted into the neighbors. “My mom taught me no matter how little you TSIC scholars program. If he kept up his grades, met with have, you can always help in some way,” he says. his mentor weekly, stayed out of trouble and abided by a They had little. Truth be told, they were dirt poor. “I few simple rules, he would become the first person in his lived in a trailer that was falling down around us,” Atwell family to get a shot at a postsecondary education. says. T-shaped braces — the type used to suspend “My mom cried for a week straight,” Atwell says. “She called clotheslines — held up the living room ceiling. every relative and told them, ‘My baby is going to college.’”
A rough start in life
‘Dr. Voorhis changed my life’
Atwell emerged from humble, hardscrabble beginnings. His father, Johnny F. Atwell, is one of five children raised by a single mother whose husband walked out on the family when the boy was just 3. He dropped out of school in the fifth grade “to make money for the family,” Atwell says. He and his wife, Velma, were teenage sweethearts who lived in the same neighborhood of Bay County.
For a middle-schooler in a perilous social environment, acceptance into the TSIC program was like a homeowner’s policy for someone living in Tornado Alley: insurance against future damage. Getting a mentor, though, was like acquiring a guardian angel — a force that can help prevent disaster. “Dr. Voorhis changed my life,” Atwell says of the retired physician who became his biggest advocate.
UP FROM RURAL POVERTY
Left: John Voorhis, a retired cardiac surgeon, has been Atwell’s mentor and friend since the younger man’s sophomore year at Bay High School. Right: Voorhis’ relationship with Atwell is personal and persistent. Years after the 2011 car accident that took Atwell’s right leg, the doctor remains a staunch ally and adviser.
From the outset, Atwell understood that Take Stock in Children would open doors that had been unavailable (and invisible) to him. It illuminated paths to places that he barely knew existed. The TSIC signing ceremony, during which Atwell and Voorhis pledged to meet weekly and uphold the program’s rules, was held at the Panama Country Club in Lynn Haven. “It was fancy … like walking into the Taj Mahal for me. It was like a palace,” says Atwell, 22, reflecting on the perceptions of his 13-year-old self. “They served a choice of roast beef or rum raisin glazed ham. Dessert was bread pudding.” At the time, Atwell’s only comparable experience had been his sister’s wedding rehearsal dinner at the local garden club. “There were kids there from all walks of life,” Atwell recalls. “Kids from the boondocks, from the ghetto, kids who you wouldn’t think their families were in financial need, but they were. The program doesn’t discriminate.” As is typical of TSIC signing ceremonies, program organizers stressed the gravity of the situation: Students were being offered a four-year college scholarship. It was theirs. But it would vanish if they failed to uphold their end of the bargain. Atwell recalls every detail. The school system’s
superintendent, James E. McAlister Jr., talked about “how this program would open doors for us.” (In Bay County, the public school system manages the local TSIC affiliate. Elsewhere, private foundations or other entities house and manage the local TSIC program. One of TSIC’s attributes is its ability to adapt to local needs and circumstances.) Janet Kessler, TSIC program manager and mentor coordinator, played the “good cop,” telling students what the program would do for them and “what was required from us in return,” Atwell says. Beth Deluzain, executive director of the Bay Education Foundation, played “bad cop,” telling the kids what would happen if they fell short of their obligation, threatening to send “her flying monkeys after us,” says Atwell, who got the message. “She meant business.” “No one falls between the cracks,” Atwell says. “They are so caring and involved. They can tell you the status of every student.”
Breaking the cycle Take Stock in Children selects economically disadvantaged students who show academic promise
Atwell gets much more than support from his mentor; he gets inspiration. “Hell or high water, I’m going to get my bachelor’s,” he vows. “My dream is to get my doctorate, to be Dr. Atwell one day.”
Johnny with friend Samantha Fox on the campus of Gulf Coast State College. Samantha and Johnny have attended classes together, and she has provided his transportation to and from school.
UP FROM RURAL POVERTY
despite difficult circumstances. The mission is to says. “But because of this program, you’ve got kids like me — kids who grew up in a country ghetto — who are now strengthen students’ resilience and help them overcome looking at a bright future.” the barriers they encounter. Ultimately, TSIC seeks to use education as the means to break the cycle of poverty. Atwell was an obvious candidate for the program. Before becoming a TSIC scholar, he had sought escape Time to spare... and care in academics and school activities. He invariably brought Dr. John Voorhis dedicated himself to making sure that home report cards that landed him on the honor roll. (He Johnny Atwell’s future would be bright. Kessler had never earned a grade lower than a B until he encountered recruited the retired cardiac surgeon to mentor Atwell, high school chemistry and Latin.) In sixth grade, he joined knowing that the teen was interested in healthcare. “My the Builders Club, a Kiwanis International program for only qualification is that I was retired and had a lot of time middle school students; got involved in student government; on my hands,” Voorhis recalls. and took up football and wrestling. His mother let him The pair began working together when Atwell play sports as long as he maintained at least a B average. was a sophomore. Atwell and Voorhis met for the first time in the high school cafeteria. It was a Thursday, fried chicken day, the biggest lunch day of the week. “It was chaotic,” Atwell says. Thereafter, Voorhis brought lunch from Subway and met his mentee in a quiet conference room that he had arranged for them to use. It became a ritual. “He brought lunch every time,” Atwell says. “He wouldn’t let me pay.” Week after week, they ate subs and talked about politics, family, Atwell’s classes, his future and other things. Sometimes Voorhis would look over the younger man’s assignments. “He was an amazing proofreader,” Atwell says. Before meeting Voorhis, Atwell had read mostly fiction, the Lord of the Rings trilogy and similar fare. Voorhis introduced him to what Atwell now calls “sensible reading” — texts about the American Revolution and the founding fathers, books that “opened my mind and taught me how our country works,” Atwell says. “It was like attending another class that I looked forward to.” Thomas Paine’s essay Common Sense became one of Atwell’s favorites. At Voorhis’s suggestion, Atwell committed to learning at least - Johnny Atwell one new vocabulary word every day. The relationship developed on multiple levels, deepening over time. Being a mentor “is not just academic. It’s to give a sense of something outside of their normal She needn’t have worried. In seventh grade, Atwell was day-to-day routine,” Voorhis says. “It’s sort of like being a named science student of the year and won the county Greek chorus. It’s there to propel the action forward and wrestling championship in the heavyweight division. For to keep the truth of the play in the forefront. It keeps the two years running, he was literary student of the year and characters honest.” the football team’s scholar of the year. Capping off his middleWorking with Voorhis also helped Atwell improve his school career as an eighth-grader, Atwell received the Thomas health. When they met, Atwell weighed 330 pounds and J. Bowers award given to the school’s most outstanding had failed several times to slim down. With a family student. He still holds some county weightlifting records. history of diabetes and heart disease, Atwell accepted “My motivation was to become a role model and to that he would probably have a short life. But with build a good foundation for myself, to go to college and encouragement from Voorhis, he changed his diet — get out of my neighborhood,” Atwell says. “I knew that eliminating fried foods, sodas and cheese — and began the more extracurricular activities and academics I excelled running four miles every day. The “weight started falling in,” the better those odds would be. off,” he says. Atwell lost 100 pounds by his senior year “‘You can always find a silver lining,’” Atwell recalls his and cut his waist size from 42 inches to 32. mother telling him. “I did the physical part of it. He instilled the mental Many of his Bay County peers didn’t receive that message strength,” Atwell says. “He taught me how to get serious. of hope. Among a dozen or so kids in Atwell’s Before, I was a dreamer; he taught me to take what life neighborhood, he is the only one to graduate from high gives you and make the best of it. He gave me a whole new confidence in myself.” school. “Most of the people from Fountain drop out,” he
My motivation was to become a role model and to build a good foundation for myself, to go to college and get out of my neighborhood.
Under Voorhis’ guidance, Atwell’s natural inclination to help others found new outlets. Observing a homeless man without a coat on a winter’s day, Atwell started a coat drive. Voorhis and his friends were the biggest donors. “Every time Dr. Voorhis came to see me, he had another coat,” says Atwell, who was recognized at his high school graduation for exemplary volunteerism. “He supported me in everything I did. This man changed my life.”
Continued guidance Voorhis continues to guide Atwell, who graduated from high school on May 13, 2011, and then took a summer job at ADT, the security systems company, to save money for college. On June 25, Atwell was driving home from his shift when a front tire blew out. The car flipped several times, and Atwell suffered critical injuries. He lost the use of his legs. Complications later forced the amputation of his right leg. As always, Voorhis was by Atwell’s side. He made sure that his mentee “got the best doctors,” and when Atwell slid into a funk, Voorhis snapped him out of it, telling the younger man that “it was time to get back to work,” Atwell recalls. After recovering sufficiently to take college classes, Atwell enrolled at Gulf Coast State College. In the face of setbacks, he has redoubled his resolve. “Hell or high water, I’m going to get my bachelor’s,” vows Atwell, more committed than ever to higher education. “My dream is to get my doctorate, to be Dr. Atwell one day.”
BY THE NUMBERS $149 million
200 community partners
Florida State Rep. Will Weatherford (far left) and his brother, former Florida State University quarterback Drew Weatherford, are mentors to twins Isiah (far right) and Isaac Parfait. “We love them both like little brothers,” Drew says.
MY BROTHERS’ KEEPERS The Parfait twins were down and out. Then they met Will and Drew Weatherford.
he turning point in the lives of Isaac and Isiah Parfait “Signing that paper was really a commitment to do well in got off to an inauspicious start. The brothers, school and graduate and go off to be a college student,” Isiah fraternal twins, had gathered with other eighth-grade says. “I signed right in the middle in as big a font as possible.” students, new members of the Take Stock in Children Onlookers compared the oversized signature to John program in Pasco County, Fla., to celebrate their good Hancock’s famous endorsement. The comparison was fortune: They were being given a four-year college fitting. For Isaac and Isiah, becoming Take Stock scholars scholarship; access to intensive training on how to navigate was their declaration of independence. the college-going process; help avoiding slippery situations that could derail that process; and a personal mentor to guide them as they take steps that will lead out of poverty On the right path and toward a better life. The Parfait brothers’ experience illustrates how a timely For a brief moment, the proceedings took a quirky intervention can keep young people on a path that will turn when Isaac learned that his mentor would be Drew lead to a better future, no matter how bumpy and rutted Weatherford, a former two-year starting quarterback on the the path may be. “We got put on the right path,” Isiah Florida State University football team, a perennial powerhouse. says. “We learned the better choices to make.” Drew is a star, and people were staring at him — most of To be sure, Isaac and Isiah have known loss and them anyway. “I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t know deprivation. Their father has been absent for most of their anything about him,” recalls Isaac, who had given up lives, and their uncle, who lived in Florida and persuaded football to focus on running track. “My aunt knew who the family to move there from New Jersey, died when they he was. She was like ‘Oh my God, it’s Drew,’ and I was were young. like ‘Drew who?’” Over the years, misery piled up like refuse on a vacant Isaac’s brother Isiah learned that his mentor would be lot. The twins’ mother, a Jamaican-born hairstylist, lost her Will Weatherford, Drew’s brother. In the world of state salon in the recession. Subsequent setbacks resulted on politics, Will is the equivalent of a star quarterback himself. more than one occasion in the loss of a house or a car. Not long after the Weatherford brothers had met the Money was often tight. The twins’ mother sometimes had Parfait twins, Will was sworn in as Speaker of the Florida to choose between driving herself to work and using the House of Representatives. It became apparent to the gas in a borrowed car to take her sons to school. Lacking younger brothers that they had hit the jackpot — and reliable transportation, the boys’ attendance suffered, and not only because their mentors were celebrities. Isiah had to drop out of a prestigious International “It was the first time I’d ever gone to an event for Baccalaureate academic program. planning my future or seeing the possibility of college and During periods of homelessness, the family lived in career success that was believable or possible,” Isiah says. hotels. At times, a mother and her five kids shared two “We met our mentors, and that was when we learned that beds and did their homework in hotel computer rooms. there are people out there in the community who care (“We knew the value of education,” Isiah says.) The family about you.” kept their personsal possessions in a storage facility, but To seal the deal, the Parfaits and the other Take Stock scholars solemnly signed a pledge to maintain good grades, those were lost too when they couldn’t pay the fees. stay out of trouble and give back to their community. “It kept getting worse,” Isiah recalls.
Left: Mentorship has its perks; for the Parfait twins, one such perk was the chance to serve as pages in the Florida Legislature, where Will Weatherford serves as House Speaker. Right: Isiah browses the bookshelves with Will, his Take Stock mentor. When the two met during Isiah’s freshman year in high school, “I knew this was a special young man,” Weatherford recalls.
“You live in that world [of bad breaks] and you start to The brothers never abandoned hope, but their optimism was on the wane when Take Stock in Children think ‘The world is out to get me,’ ” says Isiah of his selected them for its scholarship program. The occasion mindset before becoming a Take Stock scholar. “Now I’m when their mother opened the announcement was a grateful for the life I have.” red-letter day. Initially worried that the envelope contained more bad news, the family quickly grasped its import: Isaac and Isiah could go to college. To an eighth-grade A little brother follows me student whose life has been riddled with chaos and President Obama had in mind programs like Take Stock uncertainty, the promise of a four-year scholarship is a in Children and mentors like the Weatherfords when he fixed point, a tangible source of hope, a means to escape unveiled “My Brother’s Keeper,” an initiative “to the quagmire. determine what we can do right now to improve the odds “I was overjoyed. Getting the scholarship in eighth grade, for boys and young men of color,” the president said. it pushes you and inspires you to be more as a student. “We’re committed to building on what works.” Take Stock, You go for the higher grades and take more rigorous classes for its part, has been changing lives for 20 years. so you can get into the college of your choice,” says Isaac, Will and Drew Weatherford are their brothers’ keepers, who wants to study business or engineering at Florida literally and figuratively. When they were young, their State University. “You feel like you have something in it. mother had them memorize a poem, A Little Brother You have the power to go to college. You just have to Follows Me, about the influence young men can have on keep striving.” the behavior of boys. When you’re raising a brood of seven The brothers are high school seniors now. Becoming sons and two daughters, as Ms. Weatherford did, it’s Take Stock scholars hasn’t solved all of their problems, critical that everyone understands the importance of being but it has changed their outlook. They see themselves a role model. differently. They believe they have choices and the “Will was a mentor for me,” Drew says. wherewithal to surmount difficult circumstances. In a manner of speaking, Take Stock has changed everything. “We had a built-in mentorship program,” recalls Will.
The Parfait twins treasure their mentoring experience and plan to be mentors themselves. “I feel bad for other people who don’t have this experience,” Isiah says. “They won’t be equipped. They will take no for an answer.”
Drew Weatherford and Isaac stroll the halls of the Parfait brothers’ high school — the site of many lunchtime meetings for the pair over the years. “We bonded real fast,” Isaac says. “It was an instant connection.” InStride Magazine
As adults, the Weatherfords have continued to live the lesson of that poem. They serve as Take Stock leaders — Will with the program’s Pasco County affiliate, Drew as a member of the organization’s state board of directors. When they decided to mentor the Parfait twins, they were already well-suited for what was ahead, even if they didn’t know exactly what they were getting into or just how exceptional the Parfait brothers would turn out to be. At their first meeting, Isiah asked Will if China’s manipulation of its currency concerned him. “I knew this was a special young man,” Will says. “I had no frame of reference when I was in ninth grade.” During the next few years, Isaac and Isiah would immerse themselves in the Take Stock program. Its College Success Coaches are trained to help young scholars prepare for the SAT and ACT tests; they provide workshops on selecting a college that is a good fit; assist with college applications and financial aid forms; and teach students about money management and how to study effectively. Take Stock staff also meet regularly with the program’s scholars to ensure that they are upholding their commitment to the program and themselves. “It’s the time that they invest in you that is most rewarding,” Isiah says.
a wonderful upbringing, but it was hard. We struggled for most of my childhood,” he says of the experience that gave the Weatherfords credibility with Isaac and Isiah — and stoked hope in the young men. “If this guy can do it, why can’t I?” says Will of the conclusion an at-risk young person might come to when considering hardships endured by an adult mentor.
Optimistic about the future
Being in the Take Stock scholars program has altered the course of the Parfait brothers’ lives, in and out of the classroom. They were always capable students, but past circumstances prevented them from performing to their potential. They missed a lot of school, and when they were in attendance, “it was very hard to concentrate,” Isaac says. The influence of the Take Stock program and the Weatherford brothers “stabilized us and helped us to get our grades up,” says Isaac, who raised his grade point average from 1.7 to 3.2 in a year. Isiah’s GPA jumped from 2.3 to a 3.8. “There’s no lack of work ethic in those two,” Drew says. “They’re much more mature than I was at their age. … The challenges have been stability and getting to school every day.” The twins keep a busy schedule, working part-time at an The importance of purpose insurance company, performing charitable service work Despite Isaac’s not knowing about his mentor’s football and keeping up with a full slate of non-academic school exploits, “our relationship grew pretty fast,” he says. They activities. “Work is good,” Isiah says. “It’s healthy for the met at school during lunchtime, and Isaac recalls Drew mind and it keeps you busy.” bringing him a pressed cuban sandwich, a welcome change True to the sentiment of Ms. Weatherford’s poem, the from the peanut butter and jelly he ate almost every day. twins seem to be emulating their mentors’ charitable work. “We bonded real fast. It was an instant connection.” The Parfait brothers led an initiative that collected more In addition to meeting at school, they texted, talked on than 1,000 books for local schools, and they’ve run for the phone, and connected on social media. From the office. Isiah, a member of the National Honor Society, beginning, Drew and Will provided Isaac and Isiah with won election as secretary of the senior class. Isaac was opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t have been available elected vice president. to them. The Parfait twins witnessed Will’s swearing-in as House Speaker, and they served as messengers in the “Will’s election kind of rubbed off on me,” says Isaac, Florida Legislature. They met Rick Scott, Florida’s who also serves as vice president of the Community Club governor, and soccer star David Beckham — but only after and the Student Advisory Council. Isiah serves on the writing an essay for their mentors about the “the Student Advisory Council and the Future Business Leaders importance of having a purpose,” Isiah says. “I think we’re of America. finding ours.” Both young men say they want to be mentors when Will and Drew didn’t lecture the Parfait brothers or tell they are older. them how to live their lives. They provided opportunities “If I hadn’t been in this program, I would have been and shared those experiences with the younger men. “We really different. I probably would have taken the road just opened up our lives a little bit,” Drew says. “We’ve more frequently traveled. I would not be as motivated and been able to expose them to a different environment. … inspired and optimistic about the future and my potential. We love them both like little brothers.” Now I’m charting my own path and making my own way The twins vividly recall the Thanksgiving they spent through life. I’m taking every obstacle as a challenge and with the Weatherfords. There was a bonfire and a lot of being more willful when unfortunate events do take place,” people who were related. “I met his whole family,” Isaac Isiah says. recalls. “I found out there were nine of them (siblings). “I feel bad for other people who don’t have this And they all look alike.” experience. They won’t be as well equipped. They will take Isaac and Isiah discovered that the Weatherfords had no for an answer. They will never know their true strength known hard times, too. Will confirmed the families’ parallel experiences. “It was or their true potential.”
AFFILIATES Alachua: The Education Foundation of Alachua County Baker, Columbia, Dixie Gilchrist and Union: The Foundation for Florida Gateway College Bay: Bay Education Foundation, Inc. Bradford: Communities in Schools of Bradford County, Florida, Inc. Brevard: Brevard Schools Foundation Broward: Take Stock in Children Broward Calhoun, Holmes, Jackson, Liberty and Washington: Chipola College Charlotte: Charlotte Education Foundation Citrus & Levy: Citrus County Sheriff’s Office Clay: YMCA of Florida First Coast Collier: Education Foundation of Collier County Collier-Immokalee: The Immokalee Foundation Desoto, Hardee and Highlands: South Florida Community College Foundation Duval: Take Stock in Children Duval County/Goodwill Industries & Florida State College of Jacksonville Escambia: Escambia County Public Schools Flagler: Flagler County Education Foundation Franklin: Franklin County School Board Gadsden, Leon, Wakulla: Tallahassee Community College Glades: Glades District Schools Gulf: Gulf County Hendry East: LaBelle High School Hendry West: Hendry County School Board Hernando: Pasco-Hernando State College Hillsborough: Hillsborough Education Foundation Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee, St. Lucie: Indian River State College Foundation Lake & Sumter: Educational Foundation of Lake County Lee: The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools Inc. Madison: Madison Foundation for Excellence in Education, Inc. Manatee: Take Stock in Children of Manatee County Marion: Public Education Foundation for Marion County, Inc. Miami Dade: Miami Dade College - Take Stock in Children Monroe: Monroe County Education Foundation Nassau: Take Stock in Children Nassau Okaloosa: Okaloosa Public Schools Foundation, Inc. Orange: Valencia College-Orange County Take Stock in Children Osceola: Education Foundation of Osceola County Palm Beach: Take Stock in Children of Palm Beach County Pasco: Pasco Education Foundation / Take Stock in Children Pasco County Pinellas: Pinellas Education Foundation Polk: Polk Education Foundation Putnam: Communities in Schools of Northeast Florida, Inc. Santa Rosa: Santa Rosa Education Foundation Sarasota: Take Stock in Children of Sarasota County Seminole: The Foundation for Seminole County Public Schools St. Johns: St. Johns County Education Foundation Suwannee: Suwannee Foundation for Excellence in Education Volusia: FUTURES/Take Stock in Children Walton: Walton Education Foundation
FEDERAL GRANT Take Stock in Children recently received its second Investing in Innovation (i3) federal grant, beating out hundreds of applicants for the prestigious award. The grant provides resources to bolster Take Stock’s proven student-centered model and leverage it for greater postsecondary student success. The $3 million grant will establish a schoolwide mentoring and college-readiness initiative at three high schools in North Florida. The program will concentrate on improving student success and creating a more robust collegebound culture. “This national award speaks volumes about the merit and success of our program,” says Madeline Pumariega, president and CEO of Take Stock in Children. In 2010, Take Stock received a $5 million i3 grant to enhance its student data technology and to develop a college readiness and retention program. One of 49 organizations nationwide to win a first-round i3 Education Grant Award from the U.S. Department of Education — and one of only two in Florida — Take Stock used the funds to establish a new college-readiness program. The results speak for themselves: 100 percent high school graduation rate; 95 percent college enrollment; and 91 percent college retention. That success positioned Take Stock to be a two-time i3 winner.
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