Maria Gloria and Pamela Karlson

Maria Gloria and Pamela Karlson

Recently, Maria Gloria and Diana Rivera, two high schools students who take classes at South Florida State College were caught off guard, but in the most pleasant of ways.

On an otherwise typical school day, the two seniors, Gloria of Lake Placid High School, and Rivera of DeSoto County High School, were ushered unawares into classrooms. There they found teachers, family, friends, and mentors waiting to break the news they had been named finalists for the Leaders 4 Life fellowship.

The fellowship, which recognize student leaders, is sponsored by the Asofsky Family Foundation and comes with a $40,000 scholarship. The scholarship pays for college expenses not covered by any other award or financial aid. The two seniors join 12 other finalists vying for six Leaders 4 Life fellowships.

Gloria and Rivera are eligible for the Leaders 4 Life fellowship on account of their participation in Take Stock in Children. The program matches at-risk students with mentors who guide them toward earning their high school diplomas, with college scholarships awaiting those who graduate and enroll in college. The SFSC Foundation functions as the lead agency for the Take Stock program in SFSC’s service district of DeSoto, Hardee, and Highlands counties.

The scholarship would come on top of the tuition-related scholarship Gloria and Rivera will receive from Take Stock when they finish high school.

“In everything these two ladies have accomplished so far in their young lives, they have demonstrated strong leadership skills, good character, and academic success,” said Irene Castanon, the coordinator of the Take Stock program at SFSC. “Now Maria and Diana have to put together a portfolio, including a video, to show why they should be named finalists for the Leaders 4 Life fellowship.”

“Mrs. Karlson has been such an amazing inspiration to me,” Gloria said of her mentor Pamela Karlson. “She’s a lawyer, and I want to follow her example and practice law when I finish my studies.”

Karlson, who practices law in Lake Placid and serves as the attorney for SFSC’s District Board of Trustees, started mentoring Gloria when she was in the seventh grade.

“This is a wonderful student who is going places in life,” Karlson said. “She energetic, takes advice well, and has the leadership skills this fellowship is intended to showcase.”

TSIC mentors typically meet with their assigned students each week during the schoolyear, offering encouragement, advice, and a sympathetic ear. A TSIC college success coach provides support and guidance to the mentor and the mentee.

Gloria serves as the vice president of the student government association and was elected her class president. While she has applied to both Florida State University and the University of Florida, she has her hopes set on going to Gainesville next fall.

In Arcadia, home to the Desoto County High School, Rivera was also surprised by her mentor, family, and TSIC staff.

(From left) Todd Baldwin, principal, DeSoto County High School; Irene Castanon; Maria Rivera, Diana’s mother; Diana Rivera; Adrian Cline, superintendent of schools, School District of DeSoto County; Francisco Rivera, Diana’s father; Asena Mott, director, SFSC DeSoto Campus; Sheila Knoche; and Danielle Ochoa, Take Stock college success coach, DeSoto County

(From left) Todd Baldwin, principal, DeSoto County High School; Irene Castanon; Maria Rivera, Diana’s mother; Diana Rivera; Adrian Cline, superintendent of schools, School District of DeSoto County; Francisco Rivera, Diana’s father; Asena Mott, director, SFSC DeSoto Campus; Sheila Knoche; and Danielle Ochoa, Take Stock college success coach, DeSoto County

“I’ve always been motivated,” said Rivera. “But through Take Stock in Children, I have people to give me words of encouragement and keep me on track.”

“Diana is one of the hardest working, dedicated students I’ve known, she has perfect attendance, and she always finds a way to meet her goals,” said Sheila Knoche, Rivera’s Take Stock mentor. Those words are particularly meaningful coming from a long-time educator. Before retiring seven years ago, Knoche was the assistant principal at DeSoto Middle School and Memorial Elementary School and had taught kindergarten through fifth grade, as well as students with learning disabilities.

Rivera has applied to St. Leo University, a church-affiliated university about 35 miles north of Tampa. She holds a leadership position in the DeSoto Future Business Leaders of America.

Gloria and Rivera attend high school classes along with their peers but also “dual enroll” in SFSC classes, earning college credits they can transfer to a university. Some dually enrolled high school students have shaved as much as a year and a half off the time to complete a college degree by taking classes at SFSC.

The Leaders 4 Life scholarship is an initiative the Asofsky Family Foundation, which supports programs aimed at helping the state’s youth. The foundation awards the scholarship in partnership with TSIC.

Even if the two don’t make the final cut, they’ll head off to college with a MacBook Pro laptop computer, an award for the finalists that is sponsored by the Asofsky Family Foundation.

If Gloria and Rivera are named finalists, they will travel to Tallahassee in February for a formal ceremony arranged by the Asofsky Family Foundation that will include state legislators, educators, and the presentation of a $40,000 scholarship.

For more information about Take Stock or to become a mentor, contact Castanon at 863-784-7343.