An A+ Opportunity for Students of All Ages

Guest Correspondence

If the last year was an exam on whether the pursuit of academic dreams could be accomplished in the face of the unimaginable, every student – and their families – passed with flying colors. Scholars of all ages have endured struggle after struggle and earned an A+ in discovering opportunities to advance their studies as well as their careers. There wasn’t a study guide for these future community leaders to refer to while the education landscape was redrawn in 2020. Personal innovation and community support are two of the most important tools area students are wielding to seize opportunities during a challenging time.

I think of student leaders like Amber Patrick, a single mother of two young boys with dreams of entering the medical field. After a Fall resurgence of COVID-19 led to an unexpected job furlough, Amber was reconsidering plans to continue her education through the spring semester at the State College of Florida, where she was pursuing a pre-med track. With an increasingly uncertain financial situation, she applied for an adult scholarship at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. With a single click on the submit button, Amber became eligible for more than 40 different scholarship opportunities.  

Ultimately Amber was awarded support from the Edward K. Roberts Scholarship Fund, which was created in 2009 as a resource to support single mothers wishing to pursue higher education or academic enrichment. Thanks to this vital assistance, she is able to enter her spring semester with the support of the community behind her.

In a thank you letter that touched our hearts, Amber shared her desire to “one day follow in this donor’s footsteps and give back to the community that has given so much to me.”

Amber’s is one of 173 lives touched by an Adult Scholarship awarded by our Community Foundation in 2020 alone, assistance totaling more than $350,000 to empower adults ages 24 and older to attend universities, community colleges, technical schools, or certification programs.

But by no means does her story stand alone. As our extraordinary volunteer committee members discovered, the painful hardships brought on by the global pandemic combined with the altered economy, education is the new path many adults are charting in 2021. Along with a sharp increase in adult scholarship applications of nearly 40%, we recognized more than half of this year’s awardees plan to study nursing, reflecting a growing national trend of increased demand for healthcare professionals.

Our community has long recognized that investing in a student’s journey can enrich our region in so many ways for generations to come. Over the years, donor by donor, 87 scholarship funds have been entrusted to the Community Foundation, each with its own unique vision for bringing about a brighter future for students of all ages. The next opportunity for high school and college students will open later this month with our Traditional Scholarship Program, which accepts applications for students under 24 years of age living in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte or DeSoto counties.

Let’s face it: No amount of test preparation could have prepared us for the last year, and the same could be said for the year ahead. Although we may have passed the midterm exam, class is still in session with plenty of learning to be amassed.  Despite the odds, our students are finding opportunities to continue innovating and creating the future, all to improve the lives of their families and of those around them. And that alone merits an A+ for effort.

Roxie Jerde is President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

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