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Discovering a Home and Her Confidence at Polk

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Kimberly Balaun Photo

After a seemingly interminable stretch without a real home, Kimberly Balaun yearned deeply for the comfort of belonging. A glimmer of hope radiated her soul when the chance to attend Polk State College appeared. Then — just when happiness was a heartbeat away — the door peeking open to that brightness suddenly threatened to slam shut.

Kimberly was no stranger to hardship. She and her family had never had money or the advantages other children had. She had been helping to support her family, including two younger brothers and a younger sister, from an early age.

When she was barely into her second year of high school, an earthquake in her life disrupted the already shaky ground she had been living on.

“Around my sophomore year, my mom couldn’t really support me, so I lived with friends pretty much all through high school,” Kimberly said. “I kind of had to do it all on my own, figure out everything for myself.”

Kimberly felt adrift and homeless, even though she was grateful to her friends who opened their hearts and homes to her. Her younger siblings fueled a burning desire in her to soar higher, and lift them up with her on newfound wings of strength.

“Becoming the first generation of my family to attend college has always been my number one goal,” she said.

Kimberly also had a calling in life she dreamed of fulfilling.

“The profession of nursing has always been a deep passion of mine,” she said. “I want to take care of people. I love it.”

As her high school graduation loomed, Kimberly faced a frighteningly uncertain future. As she researched colleges, Polk State College stood out for her. She visited the College and was quickly smitten.

“From the beginning it seemed like a very friendly, helpful and accepting environment. I realized how much Polk State had to offer for me, including their amazing Nursing program,” said Kimberly.

With hope glimmering in her heart, Kimberly excitedly prepared to attend Polk State.

Then suddenly, as quickly as they had risen, her dreams came crashing down. She discovered that, when high school ended, she would have to move in with family friends in Orlando – not Polk County.

Disappointed but undeterred, she turned her eyes to another college, Valencia College in Orlando, where she spent the Fall 2013 semester. But she soon found it was not a good fit for her.

“I just got really homesick at Valencia. I like being where you know people and it’s personal,” she said.

Kimberly had yet another pressing worry weighing on her mind: she had another little sister on the way, and she was torn apart with anxiety, knowing her mom needed her nearby to help.

Finally, Kimberly was flooded with relief when the opportunity to move in with a friend in Lake Wales arose. It seemed her dreams were about to come true at last.  There was only one final roadblock in her path, threatening to dash her hopes once again. Without financial help, attending college would be impossible.

“I had financial aid from Valencia, but it didn’t transfer over in time,” she explained.

Thankfully, Kimberly’s hard work in school and community service paid off. Through the Polk State College Foundation, she was awarded the Mountain Lake Community Service Scholarship (non-endowed) and the Jhana Foundation Endowed Scholarship. She is keenly aware of what a transformational difference they made in her life and that of her family.

“Without it, where would I be? I don’t want to be that person whose bright future and dreams were ended because of that one obstacle,” she said.

At Polk State, Kimberly was elated to discover the warmth and personal touch for which she had been searching. It was everything she had longed for in a college experience.

“I was so happy and relieved to come to Polk State. Everybody’s so one-on-one with you and they help you achieve your goal. They inform you of every class you need to take and help you choose your classes. They’re all so nice!” she said.

Filled with gratitude, Kimberly resolves to pay it forward to others who may be struggling the same way she did. And Kimberly has a new triumph in her life: she no longer lives in the homes of friends, but finally has a place she can call her own.

Kimberly’s triumph reached its pinnacle when she was the student speaker at the Polk State College Foundation’s Wise & Witty Women and Many Magnificent Men Luncheon in Winter Haven. She expressed her gratitude to the generous donors of her scholarships, and to everyone who helped her along the way.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but all the support I received along the way motivated me to stand where I am today. I can never thank you enough for your generosity and for being the backbone I always needed, and giving me the opportunity to begin a new chapter in my life, by helping others in the nursing field.”

“A big thank you from the bottom of my heart – it really means a lot!”