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Making a Difference Mondays, June 24

Monday, June 24, 2013

Donor Spotlight: Carol Martinson
Finding Inspiration in Current and Former Students

There are many reasons Carol Martinson gives to the Polk State College Foundation, but she recently found further inspiration through her trip to Scott Lake Elementary, where she travelled to help distribute Fancelli Family Future Leaders Scholarships for fifth-graders. One of the recipients, Zalen Gibbons, had a story that perfectly exhibits the impact of the Polk State College Foundation in elevating the community. Zalen has already been taught the value of his award through his sister, who also received a Fancelli Family Scholarship in the fifth grade. This award, a wonderful motivational tool for youngsters, fulfilled its goal, as she is now attending the Polk State Collegiate High School and intends to graduate with her associate’s degree and high school diploma simultaneously. Enthusiasm for education can be contagious—particularly within the family—and Zalen has already thought about his own opportunities. Through this scholarship, there may someday be two baccalaureate graduates from the same family who had this award as their impetus for dreams and success!

Carol explained that she was profoundly moved by the transformational effect this scholarship had made on one family. “I don’t give to a lot of charities; I do what I can. I like the idea of giving to the Foundation, and that the money comes out of my paycheck before I even see it.” She emphasized the importance of the Foundation’s role in helping those who are “down and out,” citing the many times the Foundation has been the last place students could go before dreams for the future were destroyed. The many emergency scholarships provided to students she has known have left an enduring impression. Students are so thankful and appreciative, she explained.

In donating to the Foundation, Carol counts herself lucky in both her past and present circumstances. Her parents were able to pay for her education, and she received an assistantship that paid for graduate school. Still, she is mindful that the majority of Polk State College students are not so fortunate. “I work in the College Preparatory Department, and many of the students have rough lives, and they really are here to try to break some tough cycles. Many of them are single parents, work all night, go to school whenever they can, and try to take care of their children. Every time I start to feel sorry for myself because my life is busy or stressful, I listen to some of them and realize that my situation really isn’t so bad.” Carol explains that she enjoys teaching developmental education classes because some of her students have not had positive experiences in education, and her position enables them to build confidence about returning to school. She knows that without money, scholarships or financial aid, many of them could not experience higher education. Carol feels her contributions to the Foundation compliment the emotional and academic support she provides within the classroom.

Alumni Spotlight: Ashley Troutman
Using Relationships to Help Build His Community

For Ashley Troutman, life is about making meaningful connections with people. While handing out awards at an elementary school graduation ceremony on behalf of Woodmen of the World, he amazed the crowd with how many individuals in the audience were either friends with or related to him. “A lot of what I do is about relationships,” Ashley states.

A 2001 graduate of Polk State College, Ashley is a field representative for Woodmen of the World, and provides insurance and investment services to members of the community. Raised by a single mother with two older sisters, an older brother, and a twin brother (Anthony, also a Polk State alumnus), Ashley was the recipient of a Polk State College Foundation scholarship. “My mother was the salutatorian of her high school class, but raising a family prevented her from being able to take more than a couple of college classes,” recalls Ashley. “Although my mother knew that a college degree was important and hoped that all of us would go on, there was no money for school. This is why I am so glad that I received a Foundation scholarship.”

After graduating from Polk State, Ashley went to USF, graduating in 2004. He had worked at Publix throughout high school and college, and hoped to someday work in the corporate office. He also investigated the insurance field, did some substitute teaching, and worked as the assistant girls’ basketball coach at his alma mater, George Jenkins High School.

It was at a basketball game against Kathleen High School that he saw the Lakeland City Commissioner Gow Fields on the coaching bench of the opposing team. He became curious about a career that would allow someone like Fields the flexibility to help his daughter’s basketball team. Despite not knowing Fields, Ashley contacted him for an informational interview about the insurance field. Several months later, a position opened at Fields’ insurance office, and Ashley was hired.

With Fields, who is also a Polk State Distinguished Alumnus, former trustee, and former Foundation Board member, Ashley learned the insurance business and also started to help the girls’ basketball team at Kathleen High School along with Fields. “I have a great deal of love and respect for Gow,” notes Ashley. “Both directly and indirectly, he has helped me to learn the importance of building strong relationships with people.” Their relationship blossomed at work and on the court, and when Fields ran for mayor for the City of Lakeland in 2009, Ashley took over his position as the assistant girls’ basketball coach. It is a position he still holds today.

In 2012, Ashley had the opportunity to join Woodmen of the World. With his prior experience in the insurance field, he is focused on building the business and serving his community. In addition to coaching, Ashley serves on the Lakeland Code Enforcement Board and the Advisory Board for Lighthouse Ministries. He also is part of the Half-Cent Sales Tax Committee for Polk County Schools that oversees how funds are spent. Ashley is also a graduate of Leadership Lakeland Class 27, and the most recent Citizens Academy. He is also active in his church.

Ashley recognizes the importance of education and its impact in the community. “Many of my friends have left Polk County to start their careers in other places, but I recognize that if talent leaves, then the community won’t improve. I have a heart for Lakeland and Polk County, and I want to help Central Florida grow through community service, and perhaps even through public service one day.”

Student Spotlight: Denneshia Washington
Cooking Up Success

Denneshia Washington recently had the opportunity to walk back down the halls of Inwood Elementary, the same school she attended as a child. As she finished her first year at Polk State, she was given the opportunity to return to her former school to hand out scholarships to eight fifth-grade students, knowing that while the students might not fully understand what she was presenting to them, that the impact would be life changing. This event was immensely personal for Denneshia. As a recipient of one of these scholarships for promising fifth graders herself, she knew first-hand the value of this important gift.

Denneshia has had her career path mapped out since she was a little girl. “I like to plan things in advance. I’ve always loved to cook, and when I was a freshman in high school I figured out exactly what I needed to do to get to my ultimate goal of owning my own restaurant. Right now I am working on my two-year degree in Business Administration, and then I plan to go to culinary school. After that, I will come back to Polk State and earn my bachelor’s degree before opening my restaurant.”

Cooking is a passion of Denneshia’s, and she enjoys being creative in the kitchen. Her vision is to open a restaurant similar to The Cheesecake Factory, which serves an eclectic menu and a variety of desserts. For now, her culinary talents are enjoyed by her mother, father, and three younger brothers. “I never follow recipes when I cook for my family, but my dishes always turn out well.”

After graduating from Lake Region High School in 2012, Denneshia came to Polk State on the Richard Roe Scholarship she received in fifth grade. Even though she knew that her future plans included going to college, the scholarship has helped her to remain focused on her goals while also relieving the financial burden of paying for classes. The Richard Roe Scholarship provided the foundation for success.

As she waited to hand out three different scholarships to eight children at Inwood Elementary, Dennishia had the chance to reflect on her life and how it has changed since her moment on the stage. “When the students’ names were called at the ceremony, I don’t think they could grasp that the piece of paper being handed to them will allow them to expand and grow into what they have always wanted to be. But, as I saw each of them come up and accept their awards, I realized that they were just like me–with big dreams and plans that can come to pass with the help of a college education.”

Executive Director’s Greetings

Greetings Colleagues!

I am going to have to work on having the entire month of May declared, recognized, and celebrated nationally as Tracy Porter’s Favorite Month of the Year!  Between Polk State’s incredible graduation ceremony and the awarding of 135 elementary scholarships, the heartwarming stories abound!  Because of the generosity of several donors, the Polk State College Foundation is able to award a scholarship to at least one fifth-grader in every elementary school in Polk County each year.

Last month I gushed about our inspiring graduation stories of success and perseverance. My exuberance continued throughout this month during the awarding of our elementary scholarships. I began to receive e-mails, voicemails, and texts from colleagues, Foundation Board members, alumni, and even Polk State students who were themselves former elementary scholarship recipients, regarding their experiences while presenting these motivational awards to promising fifth-graders. The tears of joy and cheers of pride from family and friends elevated the spirits of the presenters, and many have already indicated their eagerness to present again next year!  To read a great story about these awards and share the enthusiasm, please visit this link.

It is impossible to overestimate the value of these scholarships in the empowerment of these students, and the rippling effects they have on the community, classmates, and younger siblings of the recipients. Students often strive for higher grades, dual-enroll at Polk State, or join the Collegiate High School Program to fulfill newly formed personal expectations—these decisions are made as a result of their recognition. One poignant e-mail received at the Foundation during the past year was from a fifth grade scholarship recipient who wished to express her gratitude to Foundation donors for her scholarship.  She wanted to inform us that she would not be attending Polk State, but indicated that it was the powerful impression and expectation made by our scholarship that had kept her focused on her studies and earned her another scholarship to her dream university. She said that for this immeasurable gift, she would remain forever thankful to Polk State College and its Foundation.

Each day we work toward the common goal of elevating the community through education, giving of ourselves in so many ways. It is impossible to fully know the difference made in the lives of others through all of our actions and giving. Rest assured though, our work and philanthropy is making a transformational impact.  And for that, I am forever thankful to you.

All the very best,


Tracy M. Porter
Executive Director