BRADENTON – Take Stock in Children has produced enviable success in helping to facilitate the mentorship of at-risk Manatee students. 96 percent of their participants graduate high school – about 20 percent more than the county at large – most of whom go on to college futures which once seemed improbable. There's only one problem: the program has historically had to turn away about 90 percent of its qualified applicants for lack of funding. The organization, which previously fell under the umbrella of the Manatee Education Foundation, is hoping that its new incorporation as a separate entity will allow it to more successfully fundraise, so that it might extend the program's success to many more area students.
As part of the reorganization, Manatee County School Board member Karen Carpenter will step down as Take Stock in Children's board chair, so that she can dedicate that time to focusing on fundraising initiatives. Ms. Carpenter will be replaced by Alex Chavez of Des Champs, Gregory and Hayes. Carpenter said that the county has too many at-risk children who could potentially benefit from Take Stock in Children's mentoring program and put the call out to qualified people in the community to think about giving time as a mentor.
Former state rep. Bill Galvano also spoke, saying that the reorganization was not necessarily a way to “improve” the program, as much as to “make it more accessible.”
“When you have something that is working so well and the results are so obvious, we should not have applications gathering dust,” said Galvano who is currently running for state Senate. “This will help us reach more children.” Galvano also said he's going to put "skin in the game," committing to mentor a student himself.
Galvano and Carpenter explained that previously, donors interested in helping to fund the program had to donate to the MEF, who would then have to administer funds to the group. They said that having the ability to solicit contributions directly to the program will greatly improve efficiency in that process, while allowing them to hopefully find much greater support, once they are able to receive direct donations. The group is funded through a variety of public and private sources.
Executive Director Dianna Dill, who Carpenter called the organization's “heart and soul,” said that while it's not hard to understand why so many families reach out to the organization given its success rate, it cannot be understated how much genuine need exists.
“30 percent of our participants are the very first person in their family to graduate high school,” said Dill. “Many of the students come from a single-parent home and some of them have endured more pain and traumatic experience than most of us would like to believe.”
Ricardo Santana was on hand to speak of his success as a Take Stock child. Santana, whose family immigrated from Mexico, saw his mom slip into a deep depression after his two older brothers were incarcerated and later deported – one of them taking his life after being sent back. His mother lived to see him become the first family member to graduate high school before taking her own life earlier this year. Santana said that while nothing could spare him the pain of that experience, his mentor and support from the people he'd met in the program helped to keep him grounded and get to the healing process. Santana is currently a student at State College of Florida and plans to transfer to UCF to study International Business and Finance next year.
For more information on how you can become a mentor, or help support the Manatee County Take Stock in Children program, visit the group's website at www.takestockmanatee.com/.