From left, Jamie Bateman, Irene Castanon, and Bob Duncan

The South Florida State College Foundation has received a gift of stock valued at $75,000 from an anonymous donor to bolster the Take Stock in Children program. Because of the donation, more than 18 Take Stock in Children college scholarships will be available to local children.

“Bob Duncan, an SFSC Foundation board member, shared his enthusiasm for being a Take Stock in Children mentor with an anonymous donor,” said Jamie Bateman, executive director, SFSC Institutional Advancement. “He illustrated for her the personal and academic success kids in Take Stock have had and explained that his own student mentees have gone on to be successful at state universities.”

The anonymous donor was so impressed by Duncan’s passion for Take Stock in Children that she decided to do something so more students would have the opportunity to go to college. She consulted with her financial advisor, and together they began the process of donating a gift of stock to the SFSC Foundation to be used for Take Stock in Children.

Take Stock in Children is a statewide program that provides at-risk children with a mentor and a college scholarship. In return, Take Stock scholars sign contracts in which they promise to remain drug-free, to avoid behavior that would get them into trouble with law enforcement, to attend school regularly, and to earn satisfactory grades. The students’ parents also sign the contracts and agree to provide home environments conducive to education. The local Take Stock program has been in place for 20 years and has awarded college scholarships to more than 400 local students. The SFSC Foundation is the lead agency for Take Stock in Children within the college’s service district of DeSoto, Hardee, and Highlands counties.

“This $75,000 donation is beneficial because we now have 18 more Take Stock scholarships to give out.” Duncan said. “The graduation success rate of Take Stock is about 99.99 percent. I’ve been on the Take Stock scholarship selection committee for 10 years or better. We have eight, maybe, 10 children who are eligible, but we can pick only two or three. We want to help more children, but there’s just not enough money. I think most people feel ‘if I can’t donate $5,000 or $10,000, I just won’t bother donating anything.’ But smaller amounts of money add up.”

Duncan has seen two of his previous mentees graduate from the University of Florida. “It just brings tears to my eyes because these kids have accomplished a lot in spite of the many difficulties in their lives,” he said. “The Take Stock program just needs to expand.”

“Donations to Take Stock in Children are used for college scholarships and matched one-to-one by Project STARS, which is under the Florida Prepaid Foundation,” said Irene Castanon, Take Stock in Children program coordinator. “It costs almost $8,000 for one child’s scholarship. So Project STARS pays half of the cost of the scholarship, and we raise money for the other half.”

The scholarship covers tuition as well as college readiness services. “The student receives a mentor such as Mr. Duncan and a college success coach,” Castanon said. “We offer workshops to familiarize the students with completing a college application and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). When Take Stock students are in the ninth grade, we begin to prepare them for taking the SAT and ACT. We discuss Bright Futures scholarships, requirements, the categories of the scholarship, and when to register for them. We also discuss the availability and requirements for other types of financial aid.” Take Stock scholars are offered tours of colleges and universities to help them decide where they might like to attend.

Duncan encouraged others to volunteer as Take Stock mentors. He said that, initially, the student mentees think the mentor is there because they have to be. “Pretty soon, you become friends, and they start to ask questions and tell you about life situations they may not have related to anyone else. It’s because they know you care. I think the strongest element in being a Take Stock mentor is just being there on a regular basis and not monopolizing the conversation. The best attribute anyone can have is to listen.”

To donate to Take Stock in Children or become a mentor, call Castanon at 453-3133 or visit http://www.southflorida.edu/giving/take-stock-children.