Braden Beaney with parents and TSIC mentor

Braden Beaney (left) with parents and Take Stock mentor

AVON PARK, Fla. – Oct. 29, 2021 – Braden Beaney, a senior attending DeSoto County High School, was surprised in his classroom, recently, when his teacher, family, friends, and his Take Stock in Children mentor broke the news that he had been named a finalist for the Take Stock in Children Leaders for Life fellowship. He is one of 12 finalists vying for six Leaders for Life Fellowships.

The Fellowship, which recognizes student leaders, comes with a $40,000 scholarship that covers non-tuition expenses, such as housing, books, and transportation. As a Leaders for Life finalist, Beaney received a MacBook laptop computer and has been asked to submit a video essay to be considered for the Leaders for Life Fellowship.

The Leaders for Life Scholarship is an initiative of the Asofsky Family Foundation, which supports programs aimed at helping the state’s youth. The Foundation awards the scholarship in partnership with Take Stock in Children. The South Florida State College (SFSC) Foundation is the lead agency for Take Stock within the College’s service district of DeSoto, Hardee, and Highlands counties.

Beaney is eligible for the Leaders for Life Fellowship because of his participation in Take Stock in Children. Take Stock 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 was established in 1996 and has awarded college scholarships to more than 521 local students.

Beaney graduates from DeSoto County High School in spring 2022. As a dual enrollment student through South Florida State College (SFSC), he anticipates graduating from the College with an Associate in Arts in spring 2022, as well. Beaney plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in Biology from his dream school, the University of Florida. His ultimate goal is to become a medical doctor in psychiatry to conduct research on mental disorders and the treatment of those illnesses.

In his young life, Beaney already understands what it means to take charge in a crisis. Over the years, he has assisted in caring for his stepfather, who has multiple sclerosis. And when his mother broke her foot, he became his mother’s main caretaker. In the workplace, Beaney has taken on leadership roles. He worked at Winn-Dixie supermarket for a year as a cashier and was entrusted with training new employees. He has served his school and community while participating in organizations, such as the National Honor Society, Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT), Students Against Destruction Decisions (SADD), and the Green/Environmental club.

Dale Wolgast, a retired school principal from the DeSoto County School District, has mentored Beaney through Take Stock in Children for the past three years.

“One of the things foundations, and those accepting students into universities, look for are completers,” Wolgast said. “Will they finish what they start and on time? Braden checks all those boxes when it comes to finishing and completing something he starts. This scholarship would put him over the edge to be able to afford to go to a major university and go into the field of medicine that he desires. He’s one of the greatest kids I’ve ever met and, as a retired school principal, I’ve met a lot of them.”

Since the inception of the Leaders for Life Fellowship program, the local Take Stock in Children program has had 14 finalists and, of those, eight have gone on to become winners of the $40,000 non-tuition scholarship.

“In Highlands, Hardee, and DeSoto counties, you run a great Take Stock in Children program,” said Marilyn Stewart, director of Take Stock in Children’s Leaders for Life Fellowship program. “The staff has been wonderful. The process and management is great. You all do a great job with the students.

“I’ve been working for Take Stock in Children for 22 years and I’m never complacent with it. I’m always surprised at the grit and determination that these students have. There are low income, high-achieving students from across Florida. They come from all walks of life. If they’re given the opportunity to succeed — with a good mentor, with some financial backing, and some positive support — they will thrive.”

“The Leaders for Life Fellowship finalists and winners are the top of the crop,” Stewart said. “Often, they don’t even need the Fellowship. A lot of the students achieve all kinds of grants and scholarships on their own. The Fellowship is not really a scholarship, although there are financial benefits to being in the program. But to be in the Leaders for Life Fellowship, we provide leadership, annual conferences, and mentoring. Other students who’ve gone before these students will reach out and mentor them. We have former Leaders for Life Fellowship students who work at Google and Microsoft. We have three medical doctors who are Fellowship members. They’re all willing to reach out and help the students coming along, to talk with them and share their experiences with them. That’s what’s really beautiful about Leaders for Life.”

To learn more about Take Stock in Children in DeSoto, Hardee, and Highlands counties, contact 863-784-7343 or