Celebrate and Support Student Resilience and Well-Being

Guest Correspondence

Photo courtesy Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

The Education Foundation of Sarasota High School in 2017 began to lead a long-standing and inspiring yearly event that celebrates remarkable young people. The program traces its roots back to 1988, when H. Jack Hunkele, a philanthropist who moved to Sarasota, founded the Most Improved Student Program with Northern Trust. The program honored students at two area high schools who had overcome significant challenges to succeed.

Under the guidance of the Education Foundation, the program was renamed the STRIVE Awards, and it expanded to five schools. A year later, it grew to include seven area high schools, and this year it includes eight, with the newest addition of Sarasota Military Academy. 

Through the STRIVE Awards, we now celebrate 40 high school seniors and 40 juniors whose perseverance, grit and positivity serve as a poignant reminder of the human spirit to overcome adversity. Theirs are stories of resilience in action. 

This year’s STRIVE Award recipients have lost loved ones, battled cancer, nursed parents, fled their country in the face of war, found themselves homeless and recovered from terrible accidents. Some of the students have already weathered more setbacks than many will experience throughout much of their lives. Yet they persist and envision a future where they succeed and reach their full potential. 

Each spring, at award ceremonies at the area high schools, these students are honored and their stories highlighted. These stories stay with me long after the ceremony. Painful as they are, the hope and resilience in the stories serve as a reminder of the duty a community has to support students who most need extra assistance to realize their dreams. Because with every STRIVE story are caring, compassionate people who support these students—who give them a place to stay or hold their hands at the hospital.

On Sunday, April 28, in conjunction with its first Ringling Bridge 5K/10K Run, the Education Foundation will host its Well-Being Expo, another first. The Well-Being Expo was born out of the belief closely linked to the STRIVE Awards that young people are remarkable and deserve to access resources that will help them find well-being and step confidently into their lives after high school.

Held at The Bay’s Civic Green Lawn, the expo will bring together the Education Foundation, the Sarasota County School district, youth-serving organizations and service providers from across the county to illuminate the characteristics of well-being as well as to share much-needed resources for students and families. Families need easier access to information and support systems to develop positive, strength-based resiliency skills that will help their children thrive.

The very nature of an expo carries this important symbolism, one deeply embedded in the stories of STRIVE Award recipients: we’re all in this together. Across Sarasota County, as across the country, students have struggled but have persisted, and that knowledge alone, knowing that they all have unique strengths to offer, is so important. 

Yet knowing that others have kept going in the face of setbacks isn’t enough. It’s essential students also know there is a community behind them, ready to lift them up and, no matter how great the challenge, help them strive to succeed.

Jennifer Vigne is president and CEO of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

Learn more about the Well-Being Expo and how you can get involved here.

Learn more about the STRIVE Awards here.

Photo courtesy Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

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