Erika Cruz

AVON PARK, Fla. — May 26, 2020 — South Florida State College (SFSC) student, Erika Cruz, was recently awarded a $300 SFSC Performing Arts and Culture for Students (PACS) educational stipend.

PACS is a partnership between the SFSC Division of Arts and Sciences and the Cultural Programs Department and funded by the SFSC Foundation. The PACS project was established to promote SFSC students’ awareness, experiences, and a deep appreciation of the diverse cultural landscape in Florida. Student participants are asked to attend at least three arts or cultural activities at museums, theaters, art festivals, cultural landmarks, or concert venues anywhere within Florida. They are then asked to submit photos of themselves at the venue, along with a two-page reflection paper about their experiences at the venues. At the end of each College term, qualifying students are entered into a lottery to win a $300 stipend.

“This voluntary program for SFSC students introduces them to the arts and culture in our community—its value and meaning,” said Cindy Garren, director of SFSC Cultural Programs. “We hope to ignite a student’s interest in the arts, enhance their critical thinking skills, and foster attendance at cultural events.”

The $300 PACS stipend can be used in any way a student chooses. Cruz plans to use her stipend on supplies, books, or testing fees she may have next fall term. She would like to save the remainder and use it toward moving expenses after she graduates from SFSC with her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education (BSEE) in May 2021.

Cruz at Bok Tower Gardens

Cruz credits Art Professor Karla Respress’ course in “Integrating the Arts in Elementary School” with her growing interest in the arts. “Throughout the course, my instructor informed me and my classmates of any upcoming art-related events,” Cruz said. “I took advantage of as many opportunities as I could, especially since I have been eager to try new things that encourage bliss and positivity.”

For the PACS project, Cruz’s art and cultural journey took her to Bok Tower Gardens in Winter Haven, Fla. for a tour of this landscaped masterpiece that features the 1930s-built Pinewood Estate mansion and the Singing Tower carillon. She visited the Florida Art and Heritage Festival in Avon Park, Fla. which presented a cornucopia of wood carvings, handmade jewelry, photography, paintings, and other works of art inspired by Florida’s ecosystem, agriculture, and beaches. The Avon Park Depot Museum in Avon Park, Fla. took her back in time to see an early typesetting machine, telephone switchboard, and photographs of the town’s points of historical interest. To add to her Florida cultural experience, Cruz stopped for homemade orange ice cream at Maxwell’s House of Fruit in Avon Park, Fla., which has orange groves and started an Old Florida-style country store over 84 years ago.

“I would encourage other students to participate in the PACS project, because a lot can be taken from the experience,” Cruz said. “Participants learn about different art-related events that require them to get out of their comfort zone and think outside of the box. It’s also a great opportunity to learn about the community and get to know local artists. Most importantly, participants engage in something positive that could have a great impact on their lives.”

For more details about the PACS project or to participate, SFSC students should email