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Behind JSF’s Mandate of Service: The Individuals Who Serve

She was too choked up to talk. I couldn’t see her face because I was sitting behind her on the stage. I really wasn’t sure if she would stand at the podium in silence, fighting to catch her breath or ramble for ten minutes. Either way it wouldn’t matter. She had the undivided attention of everyone. It was not for the promise of an inspiring message, nor the VIP status bestowed on her at the event. Neither the highest-ranking public official nor the gifted keynote speaker would come close to garnering the focus of the students in the audience as she would. She commanded the grateful reverence of those in attendance because of the genuine relationships she had built with them over the years, and you could see it on their faces.

a woman standing at a lectern with a man in the background behind her

Wanda Kirby, who is retiring from the Palm Beach County School District, receives a hand with lowering her microphone from colleague Gbolade George during the Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children graduation ceremony earlier this month in suburban West Palm Beach, Florida. Photos by Coastal Click Photography.

Wanda Kirby had served these disadvantaged high school students through the Palm Beach County School District’s Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children Program, and many of them had reached this graduation milestone because of her work. Tonight, she was retiring.

Foundation work can sometimes feel removed from the people we serve. The stewardship of our organization through committee service, letters of inquiry, applications and reports does not directly connect us to the individuals we serve … but the Wandas do.

It’s a common denominator we find in many of our grantee partners – individuals whose personal investment is almost immeasurable, except in terms of graduations, college acceptances, job offers, and personal growth of the young people they’ve assisted.

I think of Dr. Leslie Pendleton, who leads University of Florida’s first-generation student success program. She knew that first-generation students needed guidance not for their academics but for life outside the classroom.

Paul J. Adams III, executive chairman and founder of Providence St. Mel School, says “It’s not rocket science” about the success of the 42-year-old school on Chicago’s west side. Maybe not rocket science, but an undying commitment to high expectations, accountability, strong curriculum and good instruction.

J. Curtis Warner, Jr., was the founder and architect of the Berklee College of Music City Music Program. The program brings inner-city middle and high school students from Boston to Berklee for a collegiate experience and mentoring. The program is now being replicated around the country.

Our partnerships with grantees link us to the people we serve. Our work is most effective and fulfilling when we view it through the lens of that service to people.

The work of Wanda Kirby, Leslie Pendleton, Paul J. Adams III, J. Curtis Warner, Jr. and so many others reflects JSF’s mandate of serving disadvantaged people at its best. In the JSF family, we have all had the experience of seeing first-hand the fruit of that service.


Bobby Krause is CEO of Johnson Scholarship Foundation.

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.

Start Planning for College the Day You Start High School

Going through the college admissions process is as much an opportunity to learn about yourself as it is a journey to define and pursue your future college and career goals. Path to College aims to demystify this competitive and sometimes overwhelming process by providing in-depth and comprehensive expert advice to students across our county regardless of economic background. As a partner of Achieve Palm Beach County along with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, we are committed to increasing the rate of students preparing for, enrolling in, and persisting through degree credentialing programs. With that shared mission in mind, we are happy to share a few quick tips to help you manage your career and college search.

9th Grade — Take a Career Aptitude test through a free account at My Career Shines. Next, explore the suggested careers through volunteer and enrichment opportunities. Consider how you can plan your course load to prepare for this career path. Look for academically rigorous courses. Challenging electives like journalism, debate, or high-tech computer classes are a great way to round out your transcript. Talk often and excitedly about your goals or ideas for your future. Look for opportunities and feedback. Expert tip: The Admissions committee loves to see more than two years of a foreign language on your transcript. Science courses are the number one reason students do not graduate on time. Make sure to get your required science classes completed as soon as possible. Do not put them off and plan on taking two at once!

10th Grade — Seek advanced coursework and volunteer opportunities that match your career interests. Take your PERT test and try to dual enroll over your summer break. Otherwise, try to find a job, internship, or volunteer opportunity that will help you gain skills for the workforce.

11th Grade — Complete a virtual tour or on-campus tour. Research the colleges you are interested in at College Navigator. Study for your SAT or ACT regularly, aiming to put in at least one to two hours a week. There are free online preparation resources through Khan Academy or ACT Academy Aim to revise your personal statement (College application essay) three to five times over summer. Get a second reader, and make sure to follow the instructors.

12th Grade — Choose three teachers to ask for a recommendation letter. Give them between two to four weeks to prepare. Ask them, “Can you write me a STRONG recommendation letter?” In October, fill out your FAFSA. Apply to your dream school during early admission in November. Set a goal to apply to one college every other week and stick to it. Use the Common App to help manage the process. Apply to scholarships between October and March and shoot for one a week. Use your personal statement as a starting template and rework for each scholarship you apply for.

Additional resources for students and parents are available on the Achieve Palm Beach County website at achievepbc.org/resources.

Christine Sylvain is the Founder and Executive Director of the Path to College Fellowship, whose mission is to secure the acceptance of as many high-achieving, low-income students into top-tier universities as possible.

Service-Oriented Glades Student Named Leaders for Life Fellow

Long and very busy days are typical for high school senior Marie Sintulaire.

Besides excelling in her high school classes, she also participates in her school’s Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children college readiness program and takes college classes in the evening through dual enrollment. She has done all of this while completing more than 1,200 hours of community service.

Marie’s academic achievements and perseverance have earned her a special honor. She is one of only seven highly motivated students in the state of Florida to be named a recipient of Take Stock in Children’s Leaders for Life Fellowship, an award that comes with $40,000 in college scholarships plus internship opportunities and leadership training.

She learned of the news in January during at a surprise announcement at her school, Glades Central Community High School in Belle Glade, Florida. On hand for the presentation were her mother and the pastor of her church where she serves as a pianist.

“I knew the competition would be fierce, but I had no idea I could be a Leaders for Life Fellow,” said Marie, who plans to use her scholarship to study finance at Florida State University.

She recently traveled to Tallahassee for a Leaders for Life event, during which she and the other fellows met the governor and toured the state Capitol.

Marie is the youngest of five children. She will be a first-generation college student along with her older sister, who currently attends the University of Florida.

Marie said she first learned about the Leaders for Life Fellowship from Esther Benette, a graduate of the fellowship who is also from Palm Beach County. Esther, who received the fellowship in 2013, was a guest speaker at a Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children club meeting at Marie’s school.

Including Marie and Esther, four Palm Beach County students have been named Leaders for Life Fellows in the past eight years. The others are Victoria Estevez (2018) and Karla Menchu-Saban (2017).

Glades Central is one of 10 high schools in the School District of Palm Beach County to offer the Johnson Scholars/Take Stock program, which is supported by the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. Marie said she enjoyed going on college tours through the program, as well as participating in the workshops and club meetings.

“We talked about different skills and abilities that you need that you don’t normally discuss in class,” such as résumé writing and business etiquette, she said.

Throughout her time in the program, Marie also has received advice and encouragement during her weekly meetings with her mentor, Glades Central mathematics educator Dr. Cecelia Harriott. Marie said she appreciated having Dr. Harriott give her advice about school and life in general. She hopes other adults will want to help students through mentorship.

“I believe it’s an excellent part of the program,” she said. “You never know what piece of advice you give that plays an influential role in the life of your mentee.”

Lady Hereford is a program specialist with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. She has spent significant time working in journalism and public relations, and she assists the Foundation’s communications efforts as it expands its impact across sectors. More information about the Johnson Scholarship Foundation can be found at www.jsf.bz.

Promise and Transformation

Nativity Preparatory School of Boston recently hosted its inaugural Nativity Promise Dinner with the theme of “Our Promise. Their Future. Your Impact.” The event convened Nativity’s committed benefactors, supporters and allies for an evening dedicated to the idea of the “Nativity Promise.” To set the scene for the evening, Nativity released a new video featuring students, alumni and staff describing the life-long impact of the Nativity Promise.

At Nativity, we believe that all children deserve an education that opens doors and provides the foundation to thrive. For many young men of color from low-income families, society falls short. We’ve made a promise to them and their families.

Our Promise: We promise to always believe in and invest in the incredible potential of boys from low-income Boston communities to become successful, compassionate “men for others” through the opportunity of education.

Their Future: Empowered by a high-quality, full-scholarship Jesuit education and resourced by an extensive Graduate Support program, our alumni thrive in school, career, and service to their families, communities, businesses, and the world.

Your Opportunity for Impact: The generous and dedicated support of organizations like the Johnson Scholarship Foundation helps fulfill this promise and has a transformative impact on the lives of these young men.

Kevin Sullivan is the Assistant Director of Advancement at Nativity Prep Boston. With a background in communications, his work focuses on sharing stories about Jesuit education’s mission to increase equity and access.

New Camp Reaches Indigenous High School Students

Dalhousie University’s Indigenous Health Program works with school boards and organizations (including the Johnson Scholarship Foundation) to increase recruitment and retention of Indigenous students into medicine. As part of the program, the first Kitpu Wise camp was offered this spring in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Student wearing a mask and working on a disk

Students gained experience in the medical field during the Kitpu Wise camp. Photo courtesy of Dalhousie University.

The camp focused on learning about health careers and postsecondary life while meeting new friends and having fun. Students aged 15-18 spent a week on campus receiving hands-on exposure to clinical health education programs and cultural experiences.

The students also met the incoming Dalhousie University student union president who is the first Indigenous (Mi’kmaq) student to hold this position. In addition, the students presented handmade drums to the Deans of Medicine, Dentistry and Health.

Here is what student Kayla Steeves had to say about the week she spent learning about health:

In March 2018, I spent a week in Halifax attending the Kitpu Wise camp. It was one of the most influential and fun encounters that I have had the pleasure of experiencing as a high school student. I met a wonderful group of students and faculty, participated in intriguing activities, and learned amazing things.

Students making drums using traditional methods

Students also enjoyed cultural experiences, such as making drums using traditional methods. Photo courtesy of Dalhousie University.

Throughout the week, we did activities that taught us more about our Indigenous heritage, as well as aspects of the medical field. We made drums, shadowed a dentist during a real appointment with a patient, filled a cavity on false teeth in the dental simulation lab, as well as completed a certified first aid course.

My personal favorite activity was shadowing a last year dental student. I observed the interactions between a physician and patient, as well as viewed the techniques used to solve the issue. It was a different and fascinating view into what a job in the medical field would look like.

The information I have taken away from attending Kitpu Wise are resources and facts that I will forever hold onto. I cannot thank enough the brilliant people who put this program together for the knowledge and opportunities they have gifted me.

Kayla Steeves is a grade 12 student who participated in the Kitpu Wise camp in Halifax, Nova Scotia, during her March break. She will be joining Dalhousie University in September 2018.

The Positive Influences of Family

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.

“The people who influence you are the people who believe in you.” —Henry Drummond

From the biological side of things to how we are nurtured, a lot of what goes on in our childhood influences how we turn out as adults. In my case, my parents, my family gatherings, and my church community have turned me into who I am today.

white and red led signage with love family laughter text

Photo by Sara Wether on Pexels.com

I think my parents have been the biggest influence on me as I have grown up. My parents have always been extremely unselfish. They never really went to clubs or parties because they had children. They have always kept us in a safe environment. By my parents’ hard work and dedication to provide, achieve and sacrifice (even necessities for themselves) they have influenced me and made me realize that I have to work hard and dedicate myself so that I may achieve higher standards in life.

Furthermore, probably the strongest influence in my life is the family in which I grew up. Throughout our lives, we are often influenced and taught by many other factors, but nothing compares to the positive influences of our own family. As a child to young adulthood my family has always had family gatherings for every special occasion or just to come together and have fun. These gatherings have taught me how to care, love, and appreciate the wonderful gift I have because my family has influenced the way I behave, feel, and act towards the outside world. My family is a gift in which I reap the benefits.

hiking path way trail

Photo by Jaymantri on Pexels.com

To summarize, for those of us who grew up in an influential and inspiring family, we try to achieve our worth and value in our hectic lives. When we are born, we are not born with a set of values and expectations, so we learn them from our parents who raised us. My parents have influenced my identity and my self-worth, demonstrated ethics to do the right things and have inspired my drive and forged my path to become who I am today.

Amya Cunningham is a recent graduate of Palm Beach Gardens Community High School in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, where she participated in the Johnson Scholars-Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County college readiness program.

How the Johnson Scholars Program Changed My Life

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.

The thought of entering high school petrified me; thousands of thoughts raced through my mind which caused my heart rate to escalate. With no one to turn to for guidance, I felt deeply lost and had no clue what to expect. All due to the fact that, neither of my parents had the opportunity to finish college. I viewed being the first generation as some type of tormenting curse. My dad was my only hope after my mom passed away. Sadly he had very little time for me because he was always working two jobs to keep our family stable. I was unaware of all the vast amount of opportunities out there and thought I had to figure out this high school and college process on my own. One day a magnificent opportunity crossed my path.

Johnson Scholars Santaluces portfolio bindersI applied to the Johnson Scholars program and was accepted. Johnson Scholars has truly changed my life in a beneficial way. I will be a first-generation high school graduate in my family to attend college. The Johnson Scholars Program has provided me with a free portfolio to keep all the information and worksheets given to me. I thought the portfolio was just a waste of time and space, but it has truly incrementally improved my organization skills throughout these past four years. Additionally, during each after-school and lunch meeting the Johnson Scholars staff has always provided me with encouraging pieces of advice and helpful handouts from how to remain debt free to valuable interview tips. All these factors are how the Johnson Scholars Program has equipped me to be college ready.

Johnson Scholars logoThe moment I became a member of this program they have cared for my academics as much as I do and want nothing but the best for my future. I have been exposed to a surplus of opportunities because of the Johnson Scholars Program. The splendid opportunities they offer include ACT/SAT prep workshops, financial aid workshops, free college tours, and much more. If one were to run out of school fee waivers for taking the ACT/SAT, they pay for the test because they want to see individuals succeed. In addition, the staff always checks up on how I am doing in my classes and provide me with help if needed. The inspirational after-school activities have opened up my eyes, allowing me to become a better version of myself. There is no possible excuse for why I should not be college ready after being a part of this great influential program.

Being a part of the Johnson Scholars Program is not just about the scholarship money to me. It is about how my mindset has changed drastically from the beginning of my freshman year to now. All the techniques and resources they have revealed to me have all played a major part in equipping me to be college ready. I have taken every part of it into consideration and will continue to do so in the future. I am more optimistic and confident in myself, a future in college, and most importantly my family legacy.  

Maniuka Valliere is a senior at Santaluces Community High School in suburban Lantana, Florida. She is a student in the Johnson Scholars Program, and she plans to major in biomedical sciences in college. Her career goal is to become a pediatrician.

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.

My Hardships Have Prepared Me

The following is an excerpt from an essay on leadership written by a student 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. Her essay offers insights into the struggles many high school students are facing today. We will feature other student authors in the coming weeks.

looking up a spiral staircaseThroughout my life, I have learned that being a leader means to be humble and let yourself be the staircase in which you lead others to walk on to succeed. The setbacks that I had in my life did not stop me from reaching the point where I am and thus becoming the stepping-stone for my family and others.

When I was 3 years old, my father found me unable to breathe and panicked knowing my life was on the line. My parents rushed me to the hospital late that night. The medical team checked my lungs and airway but there was no blockage, leaving the doctors with no explanation. My time was running thin as I became increasingly desperate for air. My parents were struggling with answers and grew impatient seeing their daughter helpless. Finally, a doctor arrived to the hospital and immediately he knew the cause and rushed me to the operating room.

emergency room signHe operated on the back of my neck, trying his best to save me. After almost 20 hours in surgery, I was finally reunited with my parents. I was awake by the time I was coming out, and I saw the tear-filled eyes of my father and mother. The last thing I remember before I went into the ICU was whispering to my father saying, “Don’t cry, Papi, everything will be okay.” The next day, I was waking up when the doctor came by my room to examine me to see if there is any visible neurological damage. As the doctor told me to stretch and move my fingers, we all noticed that I was having motor difficulties. He told to move my legs. Horror hit as I could not move them. My parents and I were devastated by the news that there were high chances that I may not be able to walk again.

Though this hit me hard, a voice inside me told me not to accept this diagnosis. Instead of accepting the wheelchair, I crawled on the floor every day, hoping that little by little, I would gain enough strength to stand on my own. After much time and perseverance, I was beginning to stand on my own and take small steps. With this new hope, I was placed in physical and occupational therapy. It took many months until I was completely rehabilitated. As I grew older, I would need constant check-ups from my doctor, not only because of my operation but also because of my weak immune system. I felt helpless and like a burden.

Books and the letters A B C written on a chalk boardDuring my elementary school experience, I was insecure and self-reserved due to all the health issues I was going through. It became worse as I was bullied due to the scar of the operation and how my fingers worked. My classmates would be cruel and would often exclude me from group activities, leaving me feeling alone and unwanted. I also endured challenges at home, and I had to put on a brave face for my younger brothers in these situations. I am the oldest and so I learned I had to be the strong one within the family.

The bullying did not stop until the seventh grade, where I found people who accepted me for who I am. As a result, I started to gain more confidence in myself and my abilities. Entering high school, I was excited and enthusiastic for what this new chapter in my life would bring me. Turns out, my hardships became essential in my life for those same hardships would help me later on. For example, I became more active in my church. I found a channel to reach out to more people similar to me and have a strong support system.

child playing with blocks

My career goal is to be an occupational therapist. I want to be the inspiration for the children to continue working hard with their therapy and get right back up and continue to live their lives as normal as possible.

This aspiration stems from the doctors and occupational therapists that have done for this for me when I was in need. My hardships have better prepared me to be a leader not only throughout college, but my professional life to follow.

Joselynne Zurita attends Lake Worth Community High School in Lake Worth, Florida. She is in the dual enrollment program, and upon graduation from high school she plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in health sciences at a state university and later pursue a master’s degree in occupational therapy.