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Making a Difference Mondays, December 12

Monday, December 12, 2011

Alumni Spotlight: Rita S. Smith
Fall 2011 Distinguished Alumnus Award Recipient

Rita S. Smith graduated from Polk State College in 1974 with an AA degree in Psychology. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Michigan State in 1976. She currently serves as the Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a position she has held since 1993.

Rita’s first job was working in a residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed children. With some counseling experience under her belt in that position, she went to a job interview and found out that the position was at a battered women’s shelter — an issue that she had never heard of before that time.

Battered women and domestic violence were issues that had never been covered in any of her classes, so she had to learn her role “on the job.” She learned that problems are created when individuals do not feel safe at home, and how important it was to make homes a safe place for kids. Suddenly, her career path became clear – she could change the world by ending violence in the family.

Rita was hired as the conference coordinator for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in September 1992. The organization was without leadership, so she offered to stay, rebuilding the entire organization. Today, NCADV is a national non-profit that works at the grassroots level to end violence in the home.

As executive director, Rita builds corporate partnerships and secures donations for the organization. She is often called on to comment on domestic violence, and has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and national news broadcasts. Her responsibilities also include working on legislation pertaining to domestic violence at the federal level. She has been to the White House during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations, and in 2010 was present in the Oval Office when President Obama signed the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act. Domestic violence is an issue that can face any person at any time, and Rita knows that the work she is doing has indeed changed the world and made it a better place. Rita hopes that one day she can be a part of creating a shelter for domestic violence survivors in Winter Haven.

Donor Spotlight: Karen Moore
Accounting Specialist – Scholarships

As a donor to the Polk State College Foundation and the Accounting Specialist for Scholarships, I am fortunate to be in a unique position in which to experience the scholarship process at Polk State College. Working in the Foundation, I am privileged to meet the students who receive our scholarships; many times I am also introduced to their family members and am able to hear their stories, dreams, and fears. Let me share some of my experiences as a window into our student’s lives and how our donations to the Foundation are used.

Too many times to recall each individual name, students come into my office, feeling that this is the very last option they have before giving up on college entirely. This fall, a woman came into the Foundation very late in the day. She apologized for coming just before closing, but she was in desperate need for financial help. She had recently been notified that due to the economy, her job of 17 years had been eliminated. Her employer had been paying for her two classes each semester, and she had saved enough to purchase the books. She said that if she used her book money to pay for one class, and borrowed one book, she might be able to find enough funds for the second book, but she had nothing to pay for the second class. She was so close to graduating. She was hoping that there was some way we could help her—something we could do so that she could finally face the job market with a competitive edge and the degree that she had been working so long to attain.

On another occasion, a family of three came into my office: Dad, Mom, and student. Dad and Mom were so obviously proud of their son—he was going to be the first in the family to attend college. The parents told me that they had both been working full-time positions and had financially planned for their son’s college education; however, they were very humbled that both had lost their jobs and were now in my office asking for help for their son.

Both students were able to receive assistance from the Polk State College Foundation Emergency Scholarship fund, which is financed by employee contributions. In my position, I may see the tears of a student who is facing the evaporation of years of dreams, or a parent’s embarrassment in having to ask for assistance for their child, but I am also so lucky to see the grateful smiles and tears of joy when a student receives a scholarship from the Foundation.

Many students have called the Foundation a “life saver,” but it’s not the Foundation personnel who are life savers. It is each donor that is the true LIFE SAVER. It is these individuals who selflessly give their hard-earned funds to help a person they have never met to attend a class, purchase a book, graduate, and ultimately improve the quality of his or her life forever. That’s why I contribute to the Foundation—I want to help students and be a life changer by being a true life saver in a person’s hour of need.

Executive Director’s Greetings

Season’s Greetings Colleagues!

During this special holiday time, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to you for giving the gift of higher education to students year-round through your generous donations, time, and encouragement. Every single day you give of yourselves, your talents and resources to transform lives and change futures. The Foundation Team has the good fortune to witness the genuine appreciation of scholarship recipients who value the tremendous opportunity they are receiving at Polk State.

This week at our graduation ceremony, I will again be privileged to sit on the stage and see the excitement on our graduates’ faces in anticipation of their bright futures as competitive career entrants and continuing scholars. This exuberance is akin to the wonderful feeling of receiving holiday cards proclaiming cheer and joy, and it also reminds me of an annual family tradition we have from my childhood of saving the most special gift to open last. Education is, indeed, a most special gift—one that our students will carry with them and rely on continuously during their lifetimes. I recently met with an alumna who graduated well over twenty years ago, and who is now also a generous donor. As we talked, she glowed as she shared fond memories of her educational journey at Polk State. Never underestimate the positive impact you make—it will be forever held in the hearts of those you touch. As Scott Adams said, “Remember: there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”

This holiday season, and every season throughout the year, I am grateful for each of you, and for all that you do for our students, College, Foundation, and community as a whole.

All my very best wishes,

Tracy M. Porter
Executive Director

Student Spotlight:
Revisiting Our Scholarship Stars: Where Are They Now?

As 2011 comes to a close, the Foundation wanted to provide an update on some of the students featured in the “Making A Difference Mondays” newsletter over the past year. Each of these students represent the many who come to Polk State College seeking help to continue with their educational goals and dreams, and with the support, generosity, and encouragement of employees and donors, they are finding success in the classroom and beyond.

Javon Alexandre – Javon graduated from Polk State College in May and is finishing her first semester at the University of Central Florida. She has moved to the Orlando area to be closer to school, and the fall has been filled with many new experiences. She currently plays rugby on the UCF intramural team, working toward an undefeated season. Javon plans to spend time with her family and friends in Winter Haven during the break between semesters, and has set aside time to do research on internships and study-abroad programs for 2012, as she is eager to expand her educational experience even further.

Amanda Burton-Coleman – Amanda continues to juggle work, classes, and caring for her daughter while counting down the core classes she needs to complete to become a physical therapist. She states that she has learned a lot in the Physics class she took this semester, and is looking forward to more great experiences in 2012.

Telisa Edwards – Telisa is finishing her first semester at Polk State College. She has made new friends and is appreciative of the relationships she has built with her professors and advisors. She is enjoying every minute of the college experience. Telisa has been successful in all of her classes and is still focused on majoring in Business Administration, with long-term plans to obtain both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Tanya Lee Hunt – Tanya has moved closer to the Winter Haven campus in order to better manage her academic shedule and family needs, and to allow more time to spend with her three children. She made the Dean’s List recently and has maintained a strong grade point average. She is enjoying campus life and is proud to be getting closer to finishing her degree.

Brian McClintock – Brian is in the process of moving so that he can be closer to the Winter Haven campus for his coursework. He has four classes left to finish his AA degree, but because three of them are math classes that build on one another, he has at least two more semesters until graduation. He plans to continue his education onward to get his bachelor’s degree, so while he is still at Polk State he will also be working to complete the foreign language requirement.

Brian is also eagerly awaiting the arrival of his first grandchild, a baby girl, who is due in December.