Skip to main content

Posts

Sweat Equity, Delayed Gratification, and One Senior’s Story of a Big Payoff

Meet Evan Cabrera, a member of the Johnson Scholars-Take Stock in Children program and recent graduate of Lake Worth High School. Cabrera will be heading to Florida Atlantic University in the fall on a full ride scholarship as a participant in the Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholars Program. He is one of four students in the Johnson Scholars-Take Stock in Children program to receive the honor for academically talented, first-generation students. They are among 15 high school seniors in Florida to receive the scholarships.

In a recent conversation with us, Cabrera shared his thoughts about his success, some private struggles, and his advice for other students.

JSF: Evan, tell us a little about what it took to receive not one but two full scholarships.

EC: In my junior year I was asked to apply for the Leaders for Life scholarship. (The Leaders for Life full scholarship is awarded to six Take Stock in Children scholars from across the state.) At that point, that was the first scholarship I was applying for. It was a pretty big packet. (Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County Executive Director ) Nancy Stellway really helped me a lot. I turned out to be a semi-finalist. It put me down a little bit. But she said my application was really good, and told me I could apply for this other scholarship. I thought of it as a little failure that I had. But I realized a lot of people who might have edged me out didn’t even apply. And I realized it’s just some more minutes to put into it.

Evan Cabrera in Graduation Gown

I remember hearing the term “sweat equity.” I thought about that a lot. I have to put in the work now. I applied for the Kelly/Strul and another from the Scholastic Achievement Foundation. I remember thinking ‘I’m applying for two separate four-year scholarships to the same school. How crazy if I got them both.’ And I did! I know I’m really grateful just being in this position.

JSF: In your essays, you talk about some difficulties in your family during high school. How did that affect you?

EC: In my sophomore year, my brother was arrested at our house. When the police came to our house, I was the first one handcuffed, interrogated. It was traumatic. It’s still traumatic to think about sometimes, even though I know the police are not going after me. I didn’t share it with many people. It gave me insight into what I was doing in my life. (At Johnson Scholars-Take Stock,) only a few people knew. My mentor knew. Anytime I was in that environment it was always happiness. I liked the meetings we had. It helped me a lot without them really knowing.

Evan Cabrera in mangroves with trash bag

I never questioned if my school or other potential outlets were worthwhile. I cannot set my expectations too high. My goal was not to get straight A’s. I just thought, ‘let me do good and care,’ and I got straight A’s. I started my own club outside of school. That’s where I devoted a lot of, let’s say, my bottled emotions. It’s called PB4Planet. I found out there was a climate strike in West Palm Beach. I contacted the organizer and said I wanted to be involved. I’ve always been interested in renewable resources and renewable energy. I was always into science. I wanted to make some difference. I knew political change is very difficult. I started that club with high school kids to make inspirational change. We’ve done beach cleanups, we did a mangrove cleanup in Boynton Beach. It’s something I’m going to continue while in university. Since I’ve always been interested in renewable energy, I hope to become a civil engineer and focus on building homes to a more eco-friendly standard.

JSF: What advice do you have for other young people contemplating their future?

EC: It’s extremely hard for someone, especially in my generation, to see the long-term goal. So it’s hard to put in the effort initially. I think that’s the perspective of why so many people are complaining about us. For me, just putting in that sweat equity without even knowing what that end goal would be, it fulfilled me. When I started doing well in school, I had some guys say, ‘oh, he’s probably a nerd.’ If you know you have potential within yourself, don’t go for the mainstream mentality of immediate rewards. Too many guys think, ‘I have to do certain things to fit in.’ Well, sometimes you don’t need to fit in. After I started getting all this positive attention for the things I was doing everybody just started respecting me. It’s all worth it. I only realize these things because I’ve had an open mind to learn from mistakes.

Evan Cabrera is a recent Lake Worth High School graduate and recipient of a full-ride scholarship to Florida Atlantic University through the Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholars Program.

A Desire to Heal Unseen Pain Drives Senior’s Calling

The following is an excerpt from an essay written by a graduating senior in the Johnson Scholars-Take Stock in Children (JSTSIC) Program, a college readiness program that is a partnership between the School District of Palm Beach CountyTake Stock in Children Palm Beach County and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. We will feature other student authors in the coming weeks.

In modern-day society, I‘m categorized as an African American woman. But my Haitian culture runs deeper than the outward appearance of my skin. Where I’m from, our struggles are both mental and physical. According to the Borgen Project, a nonprofit organization combating poverty in Haiti, “59 percent of Haitians live on less than $2 a day.” Knowing that my culture is a place that is constantly fighting depression inspired me to become a successful psychologist in the future. In this role, I would like to appeal to the biased and skeptical individuals that would see therapy as a weakness.

While accomplishing the process of getting my psychology degree, I’ll have the ability to help people understand and manage their problems by identifying their strengths and available resources. No one is perfect, so it’s important to have those people who can evaluate an individual holistically and view the scope of their problems. I hope to expand my career into social work. I would like to help children that are in danger mentally, physically, and sexually. Once I receive the degree I’m going to help people overcome all the issues they are facing. Lastly, I will have an ongoing business for low-income families that need help but can’t afford it. With the knowledge I gain, I’ll take it back to my culture and help them relieve some of their stress.

Ednisha Vertus standing in front of school building.

Leadership, public speaking and service work are roles that I play in my everyday life. I wouldn’t describe my capabilities as skills because skills are things that are learned and taught, while capabilities originate from within. I will lead my future clients towards the right path to overcome obstacles that are blocking their success. I shall inspire them to be a better version of themselves, and not let anyone categorize them. There is a solution to everything; you just have to be willing to find it and work for it. When I do become a psychologist, I would like to lower the suicidal death rate by encouraging people to form a plan to solve their problems.

There are many things that I am grateful for but most importantly is my eyesight. A tragic accident when I was 6 resulted in me being stabbed in my eye. This incident caused me to realize that there are many different types of hidden pain a person can feel. It allowed me to view world issues from a different perspective. As I was teased about the Band-Aid on my eyelid, no one knew how I felt inside. They saw the outcome of my accident and assumed to know my feelings. With all the pain I’ve experienced mentally and physically I want everyone to know that me becoming a psychologist is not something I decided for myself, but what I truly believe is my calling on this earth.

Ednisha Vertus is a senior at Lake Worth High School in Florida and a participant in the Johnson Scholars-Take Stock in Children (JSTSIC) Program.

Bus Tickets, Pathways to Education, and Potential Greatness

Growing up, I had always had a bit of trouble when it came to academics, especially math. I couldn’t easily understand numbers as much as I wanted to. As the courses advanced, I found myself more and more confused than I had been the year before. In 2013, when I was starting Grade 9, I came across an opportunity to join a program called Pathways to Education. The flyer detailed all the resources the program provided to its participants, and it was all without cost.

To anyone reading this flyer, I’m sure the opportunity would sound too good to be true. I was not excited. I was offended that I was being offered tutoring. Unrightfully so, I had a negative outlook about tutoring, even though no one placed these notions in my mind. I don’t know where the mindset came from, but because of it, I did not register for a program that would have helped my Grade 9 year flow a lot smoother. This was a decision that I regret to this day.

For me, the bus tickets weren’t the only beneficial aspect . What had me coming back to the program every day was the incredible support at Pathways. The staff genuinely wanted to see the students succeed. Their help was never-ending, and it really made me feel welcomed very quickly. When at tutoring, they were quick to set me up with a volunteer who walked me through my math unit. They taught me the subject in such a clear way that I finally had that “eureka!” moment I long desired. The staff and volunteers helped me succeed through high school more than I ever imagined.

Since beginning the program, I have talked to the staff there as if they were friends. I would seek out advice from them, which helped my decision-making skills in the long run. I made connections with the trusted staff that I never thought I could make. They made me feel as if I had a voice– a voice worth listening to.

Youth tend to feel unimportant and parented by those in authority, so having mentors that understood and listened was worth a thousand words. Now I have connections that will last a life time, as well as loving friends who were also in the program. I give some of the credit of my successes to the Pathways program because without it, I never would have realized that I have potential for greatness.

Sidra is a recent graduate of Pathways to Education Canada, an organization that provides youth from low-income communities with the resources they need to graduate from high school and break the cycle of poverty.

A Significant Influence

The following is an essay written by a graduating senior in the Johnson Scholars Program, a college readiness program that is a partnership between the School District of Palm Beach County, Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. We will feature other student authors in the coming weeks.

Amit Ray once said, “Life throws challenges and every challenge comes with rainbows and lights to conquer it.” This quote clarifies that the road to success will not be simple; there will be adversities to overcome. One recognizes Ray’s fight for world peace; however, it is the triumphs of a common man that has had a significant influence on my life. He is more than a man I call brother. He is a beacon of hope and an inspiration to everyone he touches. Wendy Dumerlus has influenced me from an educational standpoint as well as a moral perspective.

students in graduation gowns throwing capsAfter witnessing my brother graduate from the University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in management information systems in December 2014, I instantly knew I wanted to achieve this goal one day. Being a first-generation student and graduating summa cum laude, Wendy opened my eyes to educational success. His achievements have motivated me to pursue a college education. Noticing the financial accomplishments my brother has been able to achieve after earning his degree revealed the opportunities that are available for me as well. The plan is to major in computer science or the like, to enter the information technology realm as a cybersecurity analyst.

In addition to my studies, I plan on getting involved with different organizations. Specifically, I plan on joining a sorority to serve the community and to network with fellow classmates. Also, I plan on joining culture clubs to learn about my roots and to be surrounded by like-minded individuals. Throughout college, my brother was a member of Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society, Neg Kreyol Incorporated, and Club Creole. After his experiences with these outstanding organizations, he has stressed the importance of getting involved and building relationships with people. After all, it is not what you know, it’s who you know. Like Wendy, I will also be active in campus activities.

Two people clasping hands Getting involved is vital to serving the community. During my pursuit of a bachelor’s degree, I will focus on giving back to the community in various ways. Being a positive role model, tutoring, and serving the homeless are some of the services that are near and dear to my heart. My brother was involved with Parents and Children Advance Together, which is an elementary tutoring ministry; the HipHop Basketball Foundation, which is an inner-city financial freedom organization; and Feeding Tampa Bay, which is an organization designed to help provide meals to less fortunate families. So I not only want to embody the values of my university, I also want to help transform the surrounding communities.

In essence, no one is perfect; however, it is important to have positive influences in your life to prosper. Wendy Dumerlus has set me on the right path and like him, I aspire to be the change I want to see in this world. Whether in school or life, the advice and the push I get from my brother is truly inspirational. Because of that my long-term and short-term goals are set for the future, now all I have to do is apply it and expand it.

Guidna Dumerlus is a senior at Palm Beach Lakes Community High School in West Palm Beach, Florida. She is a student in the Johnson Scholars Program, and she plans on majoring in computer science at Florida Atlantic University. Her career goal is to be a cybersecurity analyst.

Succeeding as a First-Generation Student

I understand. It seems too easy for some of us. At times, it also seems like too much for some of us.

To all of the first-generation students, I want to say I am proud of you! This is something that some of us hear too often and the rest of us wish we could hear more. As a person who was once in your shoes, I am proud BECAUSE of your determination, persistence, and selflessness. You are strong (mentally and symbolically). Yes, all eyes will be on you. But you do not have to succumb to the scrutiny. Keep your eyes fixed on your goals and “keep swimming.”

Galdwin Stewart with arm around womanThere is no guide for the journey that you have embarked on. You will hear plenty of stories, but not everything will come close to your lived experience. From one proud Johnson Scholarship Foundation first-generation student to all that will follow, here are some tips, affirmations, and food for thought:

  1. Work hard for you! We oftentimes forget to think about ourselves as first-gen students. Our family is and always will be important to us, but this is our lives and we have to do what makes us happy as well. Your family will be happy for you regardless.
  2. Don’t forget to take some time for yourself. Stopping to smell the roses is important. We can get caught up in the daily grind and forget to stop and take a breath, catch a sunset, or go for a walk to decompress. If you are not 100 percent, then you cannot give 100 percent to the activities or people in your life.
  3. Gadwin Stewart, Johnson ScholarNot giving up when times get tough. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The ultimate measure of a man (or woman) is not where he (she) stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he (she) stands in times of challenge and controversy.” What you do when times get tough will define your persistence and resilience. Remember that some of the eyes that are watching are hoping you fail. Don’t let their hopes come true at your expense.
  4. You are the first, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect. There is room for mistakes and learning along the way. Find a support system (person or group of people) and don’t hesitate to ask questions.
  5. Sharing your experiences with your family will make them feel like they are a part of your journey. Sharing is truly caring. What you share with your family could inspire a family member to follow in your footsteps.
  6. Growth is inevitable. It is okay to grow and still cherish the values that you were raised with. You will always sound different, dress different, and even behave differently to someone somewhere. When they say you have changed, tell them that all caterpillars must grow wings, eventually.

“To whom much is given, much will be required.” – Luke 12:48

Walking the ‘Last Mile’ Through Graduate Support

Providing low-income, minority boys from Boston with the rigorous, affordable education that they deserve is part of our daily work at Nativity Preparatory School.

However, we see — as do the Johnson Scholarship Foundation and many in the education world —  the serious need to help bridge “the last mile” for disadvantaged students. Progress in this area continues, but it must have the end goal in mind. We should applaud a test score improvement in our middle schools, but what if that doesn’t translate to high school success? We should celebrate a formerly-struggling student’s college acceptance, but what if they can’t afford to ever complete a degree?

Young students raising their hands in classAt Nativity Prep — profiled by JSF President and CEO Malcolm Macleod in a post titled “Small, but Mighty” — a crucial part of our vision and model is bridging that “last mile” through investing in graduate support.

Staffed by two full-time professionals, our Graduate Support Office (GSO) offers targeted resources and programming to ensure that the academic growth, character formation and call to service of our graduating students is supported and encouraged through high school, college and beyond. Our results so far have been a 99 percent high school graduation rate, 84 percent college enrollment rate, and 64 percent college graduation rate, but we know that collaboration with others and sharing best practices can help us all do even better.

Here’s what our program looks like:

Academic: Going from our small, structured and supportive environment to elite, academically-challenging independent schools is a big transition. The GSO provides regular tutoring sessions and academic advising to our high school and college alumni. Each April, roughly 50 percent of each high school junior class takes advantage of our free college visit tour of top regional schools.

Two young men standing in front of a treeFinancial: Despite working with high schools and colleges to get the best financial aid for our graduates, gaps as small as a few hundred dollars can be insurmountable for some families. Our Last Dollar Aid program fills those gaps, while a partnership with Nebraska Book Company, Inc. helps ensure that steep textbook costs don’t get in the way of academic success.

Social: Social transitions can also be difficult when minority students are so underrepresented in independent and higher education. Nativity Prep is always an open and safe space for our alumni, many of whom can be found visiting teachers and old friends each day. The GSO regularly checks in and visits with students to provide mentorship, remind them of available resources and let them know that the Nativity community is there for them. Connecting graduating 8th graders or high schoolers with other Nativity alumni at their new schools often provides a friendly face in a new environment.

Career: Tapping into our generous circle of supporters, Board members and volunteers in Boston, we regularly offer internship opportunities and networking connections for alumni to explore career options. Social capital can often be just as valuable as “educational capital.

Three men hugging each otherAlumni Engagement: At the end of the day, our alumni are brothers for life. We make sure we provide regular opportunities for alumni to gather, share challenges and celebrate one other!

As students move through primary, secondary and higher education, one educational institution can never provide all of the support and answers. Investing in graduate support and building a life-long community is our way of walking with them on the “last mile” of their educational journey.

Cracks in ‘Talent Pipeline’ Pose Risks for Employers, College Students With Disabilities

The following previously appeared in the Huffington Post and has been reprinted with permission.

National Organization on Disability logoAs the leader of a national organization focused on employment for people with disabilities, I routinely have the privilege of visiting places that are doing some remarkable work to advance the issue. My travels of late took me to two notable college campuses: Edinboro University, just outside of Erie, Pennsylvania, which has committed to excellence in accommodations for students with disabilities; and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in upstate New York, which has dedicated itself to helping students with disabilities access jobs upon graduation, better ensuring their long-term economic security.

Frankly, America’s colleges and universities would do well to examine what RIT and other leaders in career services are doing right, because many, if not most, are getting it wrong. Nationally, students with disabilities take twice as long to secure a job after graduation. And of the 1.4 million college students with disabilities, about 60-percent of them can expect to not find a job when they graduate. Talk about a harsh dose of reality for young people who simply want to contribute.

Man working on a laptop with coffeeWhen I talk with employers, which is just about every day, they tell me their inability to hire new graduates with disabilities is not due to a lack of qualified candidates, but rather a lack of access. We at the National Organization on Disability decided to take a closer look at this issue recently, which resulted in a white paper titled Bridging the Employment Gap for Students with Disabilities.

Our research, along with guidance from partners such as Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities and the National Association of Colleges and Employers, resulted in a series of recommendations that colleges and universities can take right now. Chief among them, and it’s one that RIT is executing quite well, is better coordination and communication between each school’s career services and disability offices, which respectively have access to “disability-friendly” employers and job seekers with disabilities. It may seem simple, yet so few schools get this right. At RIT, students engaged in this new model of information sharing report excellent results, with all early participants obtaining employment.

MicroscopeA closer look at this issue reveals that, while as a nation, we have become increasingly proficient at creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities in entry-level positions, employers have yet to build a robust talent pipeline for professional positions. This is a particularly pressing problem for employers looking for candidates with STEM backgrounds. One would think our institutions of higher education would be the ideal place to fill up that pipeline.

However, most professional-level jobs require not only a college degree, but frequently up to five years of work experience. This is a Catch 22 for the majority of all college-educated jobseekers, not just jobseekers with disabilities. But what we’re learning is that these experience requirements may be overly restrictive and are inadvertently screening out graduates with disabilities that could perform well in professional jobs with the right training.

This was underscored in a new study from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, in which employers evaluated students in skill areas such as being innovative, solving complex problems and working with others. Employers did not rank college grads highly in those key categories. Yet, talk with a person who has navigated the streets in a wheelchair for ten years or dealt with the medical establishment on a daily basis, and you’ll find a job candidate who excels in all three areas. Employers should reexamine requirements that might be unnecessarily restrictive – particularly federal contractors who must now seek to satisfy new federal disability employment targets – and potentially gain new sources of inventive and resourceful talent.

Inclusion drives innovation posterThis summer, our nation will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ADA. We have taken tremendous strides forward in improving access to employment for people with disabilities. But if we cannot solve the issue of how to connect talented young people with disabilities to meaningful employment, we will have not only wasted an historic opportunity to close this seemingly intractable employment gap, but we will yet again be wasting the talents of people who have much to contribute and deserve the opportunity to participate in the American Dream.

 

Improving Canadian Indigenous Student Success: Three Martin Family Initiative Projects

Of the approximately 1.5 million Indigenous People in Canada, 50 percent are under the age of 25 — they are the youngest and fastest growing demographic in the country. A real concern for Canada is the low Indigenous high school graduation rate; the non-Indigenous high school graduation rate is about 90 percent while the Indigenous rate is about 50 percent.

martin family initiative logoThe Martin Family Initiative (MFI), a charitable foundation, was established in 2008 to address this crisis. Three of MFI’s key strategies are:

Educating principals:

Thanks to the support of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, MFI collaborated with the University of Toronto and 13 Indigenous education experts to develop an innovative course for principals of on-reserve schools.

Three young men reading a bookParticipants learn how to ensure that teaching and learning at high standards are the first priority of every school by participating in learning experiences that develop their instructional leadership skills in order to increase levels of student achievement by developing improved teaching performance. The nine-month, 200-hour program consists of 10 modules plus a 30-hour practicum.

The feedback from participants is very positive: the learnings are unique to on-reserve schools, the course helps principals learn to focus on what is important in their schools, and it inspires them to be better school leaders.

Resources:

Closeup of someone writing in a work bookA virtual library of over 1,300 Promising Practices in Indigenous Education Website is updated monthly. Contents include curriculum, classroom practices, relevant policies, interesting initiatives and research related to successful practices in Indigenous education.

The focus areas are Kindergarten to Grade 12, Parent/Community Engagement and Early Childhood Education. Educators, researchers and others use the site to enhance learning opportunities and to improve educational success for Indigenous students

Early Literacy:

Closeup of a young child raising their handBy the age of 10, children need to read well enough to read and write what they know and think, or they risk falling behind in all areas in school. School achievement relies on the ability to read and write well; reading proficiency by age 10 is the best school-based predictor of high school graduation.

A four-year MFI pilot project showed that with effective teaching Indigenous students can excel as speakers, listeners, readers and writers in two or more languages and enjoy the associated cultural, social, educational and economic benefits.

The pilot project has been expanded and will include 20 on-reserve schools by 2020.

Leading by Example: The Five Conditions of Collective Impact

Collective Impact initiatives are difficult to describe until they begin to crystallize into action, require an immense amount of consideration, intention and thoughtfulness and can feel frustratingly slow at times. So why on earth would a group of stakeholders, usually organizations and communities already heavily taxed with work, take on this messy process?

Woman resting her hands and head on stack of books

Perhaps the answer is because we all have learned that working independently … doesn’t work. With Collective Impact we have an opportunity to not only create systemic change, but to find ways to elevate and support the work of each stakeholder involved.

Understanding the process of Collective Impact for some can take a moment simply because competition is embedded in our culture even among organizations and entities that by their very nature exist to uplift others. It is hard for us to imagine that non-profit, civic, faith-based, education and community partners could come together around one common goal long enough to make permanent and systemic change. However all over the country communities are suspending disbelief long enough to allow for the necessary growth process of such a project to make significant change. We are seeing this in the Achieve Palm Beach County initiative currently underway in Florida.

Achieve Palm Beach County Logo

Achieve Palm Beach County is a Collective Impact initiative that has been in community planning sessions since 2015 and has recently reached the point where the initiative is ready to begin implementation. The Johnson Scholarship Foundation is a supporter of this initiative. Achieve PBC’s mission is to ensure an integrated and effective system of supports from middle school through post-secondary that empowers Palm Beach County students for career success. By 2023 this collective wants to have at least 65 percent of PBC high school graduates completing college or career preparation education within six years of graduation.

The Georgetown Center on Education and Workforce predicts that of all new jobs created in Florida by 2020, 68 percent will require a post-secondary credential. In the School District of Palm Beach County, only 42.3 percent of all graduates and 31.5 percent of low-income graduates are predicted to receive a post-secondary credential within six years of high school graduation. The School District of Palm Beach County has a clear strategic plan which outlines the significance of post-secondary success and was a great informer as Achieve began. Over 160 stakeholders from universities, faith based organizations, government agencies, non-profits, the school district, community groups and human service organizations came together create a plan for addressing the county’s future labor needs and the goal of every student having the opportunity to access post-secondary education.

Two hands putting a puzzle piece togetherTo accomplish this goal the United Way of Palm Beach County is serving as the backbone organization thus providing a credible and organized infrastructure to the collective’s strategies and staff. Like every Collective Impact initiative, Achieve Palm Beach County must ensure that the five conditions developed by John Kania and Mark Kramer in 2011 are met in order for there to be systems change across a community.

The Five Conditions developed by Kania and Kramer are as follows:

  • Common Agenda: All participants share a common agenda for change that includes a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving the problem through agreed upon actions.
  • Shared Measurement: All participating organizations agree on the ways success will be measured and reported. A short list of common indicators is used for learning and improvement.
  • Mutually Reinforcing Activities: A diverse set of stakeholders, typically across sectors, coordinate a set of differentiated activities through a mutually reinforcing plan of action.
  • Continuous Communication: All players engage in frequent and structured communication to build trust, assure mutual objective and create common motivation.
  • Backbone Support: Staff dedicated to the initiative provide ongoing support by guiding the initiative’s vision and strategy, supporting the aligned activities, establishing shared measurement practices, building public will and mobilizing resources.

Woman writing in a note bookThis framework sets the stage for rules of engagement as communities begin to work together in unprecedented ways to tackle some of the seemingly overwhelming issues that can affect our lives and will determine if the generations of the future are simply surviving or thriving. As organizations and adults involved in Collective Impact work, we are learning a new way to think about how to create a better world, communicate with each other, incorporate and validate differing experiences and streamline funding sources to make a larger impact without diminishing services. As stated above, this work can be messy.  We are indoctrinated into a certain way of operating that takes time to unravel.  We have organizational fears around autonomy.  In the non-profit and education sectors, where we are used to competing for the same resources, we are learning how to work with each other in trusting ways that evoke all of the natural progressions and obstacles of change. The work it takes to move a community in an agreed upon direction allows adults across many sectors the opportunity to lead by example in our ability to collaborate for something much bigger than any of us could accomplish alone. The Collective Impact structure allows not only for macro level change truly reflective of community goals, but reveals the best in who we are and what we can achieve together.

‘Believe in Yourself’: A Star Student Shares Tips for Scholarship Success

Nancy Stellway, Karla Menchu-Saban and Suzanne Boyd (Photo by Living Exposure)

Photo courtesy of Carl Dawson/Living Exposure

From the time she was in middle school, recent high school graduate Karla Menchu-Saban set her sights on attending Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida.

“I used to say, ‘One day I will study and graduate there,’” said the teen, who attended Lake Worth Community High School, a few miles up the road from FAU.

Her dream is coming true, and in a big way. The first-generation college student will be attending FAU this fall with all expenses paid, thanks to several scholarships.

Since her freshman year, she has participated in the JSF-funded Johnson Scholars college preparatory program at her school. The program, offered at seven high schools (10 next year) in partnership with the School District of Palm Beach County and Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County, provides mentoring and other support for students to make a successful transition to college.

Those who successfully complete the program are guaranteed a two-year tuition scholarship. However, that was just the beginning for Karla. She was named a finalist and eventual recipient of Take Stock in Children’s Leaders 4 Life Fellowship, which offers up to $40,000 for college. Only six highly motivated students from across the state of Florida were selected for this award.

(To see a video of Karla finding out she had been chosen for the fellowship, click here.)

A mom and her three children

She said that she is grateful to God and her family, friends and community for helping her to reach this point. “I hope one day I can give back, and I don’t expect anything back because it comes from my heart,” she said.

During her high school years, she maintained a high GPA while being dual enrolled in classes at Palm Beach State College. She also was involved in her school’s Air Force ROTC program.

At FAU, she plans to study education. She also has an interest in nursing and eventually would like to work in the field of pediatrics.

What advice does she have for other high school students who hope to obtain scholarships?

Karla Menchu-SabanWe all have the ability to accomplish anything. “We all have goals and dreams to accomplish,” she said. “The only way to complete that is by having your head up. Have a positive attitude and believe in yourself.”

We all can overcome any circumstance, no matter what. “I know there can be many obstacles that can hold you back, but it’s up to you overcome that issue. You must think of whom your benefiting and why are you doing it.”

Be true to yourself, and don’t be afraid to seek out guidance. “Mentors are individuals who offer support, guidance and encouragement. They help a child to build their dreams and goals.”

Cake with logos in icingAmong those she considers her mentors are her mother, Maria Saban; Take Stock In Children Palm Beach County Executive Director Nancy Stellway; Johnson Scholars Program Specialist Wanda Kirby; Johnson Scholars Site Coordinator Abbe Gleicher; Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County Director of Program Services Marilyn Schiavo; Palm Beach State College Post Secondary Advisor Cynthia Trager; Lake Worth High School Assistant Principal Caelethia Clemons; and her family, friends “and every individual who supported me in every aspect. They all were there from the beginning and will be there for me until the end.”

Lastly, perseverance is the key to success. “My dream came true based on my willingness to strive for excellence in my education, along with perseverance.”