Students: Our Community is Rooting for You

Guest Correspondence

Image courtesy Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

For students taking the next bold step along their journey to a better life, there is no greater source of empowerment than knowing that their community is fully behind them, cheering for and supporting their success. 

I think of students like LaQuisha Garvin, who, during her last couple of semesters, was no longer eligible to receive financial aid and feared she wouldn’t be able to graduate. Amidst these hard times, she applied to the Adult Scholarship Program at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and was awarded enough assistance, in her own words, “to finish and graduate – and I did rock those semesters!” Now, LaQuisha is paying forward that kindness as a Student Support Specialist at a middle school in Manatee County, inspiring a whole other generation of learners to reach for their full potential. 

Another student, Jason Morin, counted on his community to take his next academic steps. Living in foster care during his senior year of high school, Jason considered higher education out of reach. Through encouragement and support from his community, he was introduced to the Community Foundation’s Traditional Scholarship Program and, on the very day the program began accepting applications, he completed his in one sitting. That decision “dramatically transformed” his life, Jason recalls, as he then received support for all four years while obtaining his undergraduate degree, which led to him earning two bachelor’s degrees with honors. He then went on to complete his law degree, pass the bar, and begin his career as a lawyer. He shares that: “It’s hard to believe that from where I was to where I am now, it all started with that leap of faith and the Community Foundation has been right there the entire time.”

LaQuisha and Jason’s stories of perseverance and success were two of included in our digital thank you carddelivered to the inboxes of the many volunteers who make our scholarship opportunities possible (you can hear more about their experiences here). Each year since our scholarship program’s inception in 1988, these caring individuals across Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte, and DeSoto counties change lives as they thoughtfully review hundreds of applications to help determine scholarship recipients. The unique vision, voice and life experience that each volunteer brings are vital in enriching the process, ensuring gifts are made more equitably and with the greatest impact in mind.

Our scholarship program is powered and bettered by these diverse perspectives. I look to how, during the worst moments of the COVID-19 pandemic when the mental health of our students was at an all-time low, committee volunteers elevated festivities through Zoom calls and personalized award notifications. 

And we’re always welcoming our neighbors to be part of this ongoing effort (learn more how you can join on our website). Last year, one-third of our committee members successfully completed their first year of service as volunteers. Without them, the approximately 800 scholarships – totaling more than $2.2 million – would not have found their way as timely and efficiently to our youth and adult students. 

Time and again, students have shared with our team just how supported they felt by the community at every turn on their path to higher education, with meaning far beyond the financial. Their messages remind us that time is one of the greatest gifts that we all have the means to give. We invite you to spend yours in the service of helping students transform their dreams into realities. Become a Scholarship Committee Volunteer.

Kirsten Russell is Vice President of Community Impact at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

Image courtesy Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

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